Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Soon I'll be trading my blushing swamp for Flushing Meadows, as in New York City. I don't expect to find any meadows in New York City, because the big apple grows out of cracks in the sidewalk. I'm going to make it my mission while in New York to document the crackpots that that walk those sidewalks. It should be easy, and fun. I'll be looking for people of colour, though ethnicity is irrelevant in my quest.
New York City and its inhabitants will be fodder for my camera, no doubt, and I intend to graze in technicolour. I can hardly wait! I'm taking Timmy with me and we've hatched an outrageous plan...hopefully we can pull it off!
But first, I must survive the gales of the North Atlantic....next stop, Halifax. All aboard!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Do you see the rock face below? That's Martin Head on the Bay of Fundy. My brother and his drinking buddies thought it would be a good idea to try and climb it.
Here's what my older brother (the role model) had to say about the experience...."Your story reminds me of the time Hughson, McKenzie and I had a few frosties then decided to climb Martin Head. We got to a certain point and realized if we tried to go back down, there was a 100% probability we would slip and fall and probably die, and a 90% percent probability that if we kept going we would slip and fall and probably die. Fortunately (and obviously), we beat the odds."
Is rock climbing about 'beating the odds'?
As a young child I used to love the autumn. I would roll around in the raked piles of cherry, pumpkin and mustard coloured leaves, spreading my father's handiwork to the four winds. One of my all-time favourite things to do in the fall was to go apple picking. I liked apples, but I loved climbing the gnarled branches of the old apple trees. The Government of Canada took note of the fun that children were having in the trees, and decided that it was too dangerous.
"There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation", spoke Pierre Trudeau, adding that the orchards were a wholly different matter.
Legislation was introduced. Scientists at Agriculture Canada worked feverishly to develop an unclimbable tree, and thus the dwarf apple tree was born. It's practically all you see in the orchards these days.
I suppose that's why I climb cliffs, because my inner child doesn't get to climb enough. Going up the ladder to clean the eavestroughing doesn't count, that's work. It's amazing how alive you feel when you're 'near death'. As it stood, I decided not to make a break for the summit and I slid back down the cliff on my sorry ass, scraping my legs and arms along the way, and bleeding a bit from my hand.
When I got back to the bottom I laughed at myself, not for the folly of my actions, but because I had beaten the odds.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Every now and then someone says something nice about me, and I take their words and tuck them away in a very private place. Yesterday I was sent an e-mail that really struck a cord with me, so today I'm going to unabashedly reprint that letter, but first a little background...
I did some creative writing this past winter for a company called Gently Spoken in Minnesota. They create and market a line of 'more than cards/less than books', among other things, that are unique and splendidly thoughtful. Their cards (etc.) are ideal for people who struggle to articulate their feelings in words, but have the wherewithall to know that kind thoughts matter greatly. These card sending customers are empowered to acknowledge their love and appreciation of others in a manner that goes beyond traditional channels (i.e. those that smell of Hallmark). Gently Spoken is authentic and has a wonderful story that accompanies its brand. I'm delighted to share my thoughts and words with them, and I'm happy to share their words with you.
Here's the letter that the owner of the company sent me...
Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. You are, indeed, a masterful wordsmith. Do you know how talented you are? Torrie, my assistant, says you are the most emotionally expressive straight guy she's ever seen (read). As Salutarian and recent graduate of a private and esteemed women's college (who loves literature and nearly always has a book in her hand), I thought her comment was quite a compliment and worth mentioning. Have you ever thought of teaching classes on being emotionally sensitive? Women would love it and men need it.
It truly was a pleasure to work with you on the Just gotta tell you...cards, Ian. If the market responds as we hope it will, we'll have more projects
What a great, and generous, letter. I did have to chuckle at the idea of me (??) teaching classes on being emotionally sensitive. I've always considered myself to be emotionally detached, or at least in control. Remember, I claim to be half Vulcan. I'm not, of course, but it's a mask that I like to wear. In fact, I care deeply, I just don't always know how to say it, so I write.
I gave up watching television over four years ago because I was becoming desensitized to the plight of others. Every night I would watch the news and I found, over time, that I'd barely bat an eye at the tragedies that were unfolding before my eyes (wars, famine, accidents, Rex Murphy's hair, etc.). I was becoming numb, so off went the television. I suppose my fatwa on television really said that I do care, that I had emotions, though it felt like I had none. Life is full of contrast, and that's what makes it interesting. Can you have love without hate? Or can hot exist without cold? Can detachment live without emotion? Can either Mulroney (dad or spawn) exist without Mother Teresa?
Philosophers, start your engines!
So what are my qualifications for teaching sensitivity classes? Well, I used to be into boxing and I worked as a doorman at the Chestnut tavern in Fredericton. I'm reticent to call my former self a bouncer, because I chose to negotiate with drunks, rather than hog tie them like some of my bouncier colleagues. I remember one bouncer, Mike Johnson, a mountain of a lad. He used to pick people up in some sort of wrestling move (was it a full Nelson?) and carry them out with their feet dangling in the air. Me? I used the spoken word...
"I'm sorry my hopelessly drunk and beligerant friend, but you're going to have to depart from this beloved palace of swill."
"I ain't goin' f___ing nowhere."
"Your mom just called and she said there's Nascar and Wrestling on TV right now, if you hurry home."
"Yup, I just spoke to her. She also said there's six beer in the fridge and a pizza on the way."
Slam!! (the sound of the Chestnut door being shut behind a drunk).
One night a particularly wild drinker/fighter, known to all doormen in Fredericton, tried to take on the entire door staff at the Chestnut (not a good idea). Rumour has it that his leg was broken in the door as he was trying to re-enter the building and start a war. I was busy at the time telling white lies to other patrons...
"Your old girlfriend just called and she's sorry that she broke up with you. She's at your place right now and she's feeling lonely. You'd better hurry."
Those were the old days. Now I practice yoga and eat yellow zucchinis. Maybe I have changed? Maybe I am emotionally sensitive? Maybe I am the most emotionally sensitive straight guy who's writing.
Gay writers beware! There's a straight guy who's invading your turf. He's going to take over your genre. He's not going to be knocking at your back door, he's going to kick the front door in, then redecorate your world with words that are straight from the heart.
Oh...who am I kidding? I could never teach sensitivity classes, just the thought of it makes me all weepy.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Word association: when I say 'Mulroney', what word, or words, immediately pop into your head?
Is it scum bag? Thought so. Me too!
What if the word was 'Trudeau'? That's a bit more of a challenge since Pierre was more polarizing (everyone hates Mulroney). When I say 'Trudeau', what word orbits your mind? For me, I think windsurfer. Isn't that odd?
Not really. I know a guy called Guy...Guy Trudeau, who is, in my unhumble opinion, the epitome of what it is to be a windsurfer. Compared to Guy Trudeau, the rest of us boom grabbers are all posers. In windsurfing, for sure, but perhaps in life too.
What concerns do most of us face in our daily lives? We're all so comfortably beyond food and shelter that we're thinking about iPhones, big screen televisions and espresso machines. We're devastated if our carpets don't match our drapes (in this case, not a euphemism aimed at bottle blonds, I'm actually talking about interior decor). We get upset when a dandelion appears on our lawn (get my shotgun, Dot, I'm goin' after it!)
Guy Trudeau tucks himself into bed every night just like Matt Foley. Matt Foley was a character played by Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live. Matt Foley was a motivational speaker who lived in a van down by the river. Guy Trudeau lives in a van down by the ocean, in les Iles de la Madeleine, and he is incredibly motivational. I could never do what Guy does, but I admire him greatly for his true and unwavering dedication to the addiction we call windsurfing. Guy is the best windsurfer in Quebec's island archipelago. He's not some hot shot twenty year old who doesn't know any better. He's a hot shot forty year old, who does.
So what's the appeal of living in a van down by the ocean, windsurfing every single day that the wind blows. The answer is simplicity. Guy isn't caught up in the trappings that mire most of us. There is no lawn to mow, no mortgage to fret about, no eavestroughing to clean, no trim to paint. There is only the van, the ocean, the wind, and an old laptop. On the surface, it's a very simple existence. Deep down, I suspect that Guy is very much in touch with himself. While most of us gather our reflections in well lit mirror housed in tiled bathrooms, Guy reflects a life lived in his outdoor eyes. If Guy died today, I would think that he would have no regrets. How many of us can say that?
So what are the nuts and bolts of living in a van down by the ocean? Everyone needs money, even Guy. Is he a leisurologist? Not quite. Guy is a seasonal leisurologist and a fine one at that. He takes jobs in the winter (i.e. substitute teaching), lives frugally and focuses his energies on maintaining his vagabond lifestyle throughout the summer and fall. How I would have loved to have had a supply teacher like him when I was a student. It's rare to find a teacher who's cooler than the students, though my friends Peter Wiggins (N.B.) and Manuela Imhof (Switzerland) are notable examples. I don't know if Guy ever talks to his students about his life, but I sure hope so.
A couple of years ago Guy was telling me, in his marginally broken English, about a particularly epic day windsurfing on the waves. The waves were logo high (about 10 feet) and they very much tried to ruin his day. Walls of whitewater did their best to keep him pinned to shore, particularly as he tried to head out into deeper water. They failed. Guy said that it was both exciting and scary as he surfed back into shore. He added that he was laughing out loud as he was careening and carving down the frothing and cresting waves. He said he was "yellow laughing", a term that, at first, left me confused. He was, of course, yellow (scared) but laughing with utter joy. Lost in translation? Absolutely not! It's poetry.
How often are we able to step away from our worries and our commitments and enjoy an extended moment of unfettered freedom? It's hard to say if Guy will ever own a home, have a wife and kids, or drive a sedan with satellite radio and heated seats. He may not play the game that the rest of us play, yet I sense that he's winning on his own terms. He smiles more than most people. He laughs in colours that we paint on walls. He lives in a van down by the ocean.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Do these pants make my ass look small? That's like asking if my full body tattoo makes me look like a Sunday school teacher. This question rarely gets asked. It's always, always, always phrased as 'do these pants make my ass look big'? The answer to this question is one that men have been struggling with for decades and it has turned many an honest man into a hyperopic liar.
There are, after all, only two answers to this question:
1) The first reply, most commonly uttered, is 'no, not at all', at which point the devil enters the room, wags his finger at you, offers you some Doritos, and collects your soul.
2) The second answer, rarely spoken, is the truth... 'yes, they do make your ass look big, in fact a barn door could pass through you with ease. You then pack up your clothes, grab a bag of ass fattening Doritos, and go out to the backyard. You explain to Fido what you've just done, and that he's going to have to skoosh over a bit to make room for you in the dog house. Fido wags his tail, then you snuggle up and share the Doritos. I'm joking, Doritos are not fit for a dog.
Have you noticed that there are two types of people that ask this asinine question? There's women with a sense of humour, and then there's women with no sense of humour. Rarely does anyone with a giant pumpkin of an ass ask this question. That's like me saying 'do these flood pants make me look tall'? It's usually the borderline cases that ask the question. I hate it when someone with no ass asks if their pants make their butt look big. These people should be spanked, if only that was an option.
Shifting gears for a moment (from reverse to forward, I'd say), you might wonder why a leisurologist was sporting the wardrobe of the working class...coveralls. The simple answer is because I'm fifty percent Scottish and one hundred percent cheap. The insulators were arriving yesterday and I had to remove some old insulation from the basement. I could have hired someone to do this unpleasant task, but that would turn this frog of a man into too much of a princess. Once in a while I get this urge to be a man, so I dress up in work clothes and pretend.
Speaking of frogs and prince(ss)es, do you remember the rock band KISS? Unfortunately, my wireless keyboard doesn't allow for a lightning bolt S (or two), clearly an oversight by the designers at Logitech. Here's what it should look like...
KISS sang the following words in 1979:
"I was made for lovin' you baby."
Thirty years later they're touring like crazy, and they're still made for lovin' you baby, though 'baby' is probably a grandmother by now. If you care to, and I don't know why you would, you can check out Kiss's impressive touring schedule if you scroll down on the link. If nothing else, it's fun to watch the changing image at the top of their web page. In every picture, Gene Simmons has his ample tongue sticking out, or he's choking on a piece of raw pork tenderloin (wishful thinking).
Is it just me, or would it be unsettling to hang out with a guy who's always got his tongue on display? I'd give Gene a spanking if I wasn't so terrified of a retaliatory tongue lashing.
It must have been nice for Gene Simmons and company to know what they were made for, because I have no idea what I'm made for. I know what I'm not made for...I'm not made for cleaning old insulation out of crawl spaces. When you're 6'3" you don't function well in a crawl space that's 3'6". It's a miracle that I got my butt (4'2") in and out of there in one piece. Of course, I didn't.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
The Queens County Fair happens at the end of every summer in the sleepy little village of Gagetown. I've been many times over the years, but this less-than-merry go round had convinced me that I'd rather take a puck to the chin than ever return.
I've had a love/hate relationship with carnivals for years, and it all started with the Fredericton Exhibition (FREX). I used to love going to the FREX. I didn't love it enough to pay the price of admission, so I'd slink under a fence behind some trailers, with my delinquint buddies, undoubtedly crawling through carnie pee and/or horse excrement. Five dollars saved, dignity and jeans only marginally soiled.
Once safely inside I would visit the vomit inducing ride called The Zipper. I never went on The Zipper, I just stood below it, dodging flying pogo dog chunks to gather up the quarters that rained out of people's pockets as they turned and churned inside their whirling cages. It was a great way to earn a little spare change, though it was not without its dangers. The carnie, being an opportunist like me, would foot race me to the pennies (and quarters) falling from heaven. He got what landed within the secured drop zone, I got what landed on the outside. You'd be amazed at the distance a quarter can travel when catapulted from thirty feet above.
I'm not sure if the FREX was the beginning of my life as an entrepreneur, or scheister, likely both. What I saved on admission, and harvested under The Zipper, was no doubt later handed over to some lobster clawed carnie. I'm not joking when I say that. One of my most enduring childhood memories was of a crusty carnie with three fingers on one hand (the claw), and two on the other (the pincer). I nicknamed him 'the lobster', and I charted a generous arc around him whenever our paths crossed. I never did learn what happened to his fingers, though I suspect he tried to oil the Tilt-A-Whirl when it was moving. Of course that's unlikely, since we all know that carnies never do anything to maintain the rides. Even in quiet and quaint Gagetown, where nothing bad ever happened until the ferry godfather got elected, I half expected the Ferris wheel to roll past me, down the hill and into the creek. Wishful thinking, at least from a photographer's perspective.
Let's see...shall I photograph the horse's tattooed arse, or perhaps that runaway wheel of misfortune.
Rarely in my life have I ever felt so out of place as I did at the fair yesterday. I was Mork from Ork, walking around a dusty and dirty fairground with aliens who had emerged from square eggs, most likely born in a Walmart parking lot. I could easily see the humour in my predicament, and perhaps I should have wallowed in it a tad longer, but I wanted nothing more than to get out of town and return to Ork.
I'm not sure why I felt so detached from my Queens County cousins but I think having just returned from les Iles de la Madeleine had a lot to do with it. I had just spent ten glorious days walking barefoot in drifting sands. The air was crisp and salty, every day. My eyes were never landlocked or shackled. Now I found myself staring at the dusty backside of Equus Seabiscutus, wondering if I could get my $6 admission fee returned.
The Queens County Fair is immensely popular and well received. They must be doing something right because 64 years later it's still going strong. I guess I just don't get off on looking at plates of raw string beans, neatly spooned together, each vying to win a first prize ribbon.
Honestly, I couldn't care less that someone could grow a dozen blemish free beans. Call me jaded.
I saw neatly cropped beets, groomed to perfection, awaiting my admiring glance. There were reams of baked goods sitting on display, sweating in plastic bags and housed in a snack-proof Plexiglass prison. I can only imagine how proud Eunice Hanselporker was when her oatmeal/raisin/sorghum cookies took first place in the oatmeal/raisin/sorghum category. I hope she wasn't too devastated that her oatmeal/cow chip/alfalfa cookies didn't fair so well, losing to Edna Snickerbutt's perfectly baked biscuits.
I'm glad that so many people are excited and inspired by the fair, I just can't seem to rally my own troops enough to care anymore. I guess that I choose to celebrate our agricultural heritage in a different way. The hundred mile diet is my contribution to the well being and continuity of our farm community. I do it more or less alone, and that suits me just fine.
The real beauty of the Queens County Fair is it's bringing together of like minded neighbours who wish to do some carefree socializing. Oddly enough, or perhaps not so, I hardly recognized anyone there, least of all myself.
This is the final call for flight 242 to Ork...all passengers not yet on board should approach the gate.
I've got to go!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Spending an extended time alone in a car can be either a curse or a blessing. Yesterday, while driving home from les Iles De La Madeleine, I gave my mind permission to drift off the highway and onto the gravely shoulder of the ridiculous.
Just the night before, during my swan song evening appearance in Quebec's lovely archipelago, I made my way to the western cliffs of Cap-Aux-Meules. I sensed that a stellar sunset was forthcoming, so I gathered my camera gear and traveled to Cap Du Phare (Cape Lighthouse). I arrived while the sun was still two fingers above the horizon. Perfect timing. The red sandstone cliffs were just beginning to warm up to my presence.
I was not alone in my appreciation of the gift of the evening. Others with me left their impressions on the soft sandstone underfoot, though there was a mass exodus the minute the sun dipped below the horizon. Fools! The show was just beginning when the sun fell off the radar of the blind.
The next forty-five minutes was intoxicating (in fact I'm still drunk from that evening, some thirty-six hours later). A lighthouse stood high atop the cliffs, sharing the view with this humble man. Smugly it told me that I had missed a thousand equal sunsets since my first visit in 2002, though I was warmly welcomed to share this one. This was the point when I first started to think of my would be life as a lighthouse.
As I drove home through Prince Edward Island I reminisced of that evening and day dreamed of the night. It struck me that I had a lot in common with that lighthouse, beyond narrow shoulders and a penchant for gazing into the distance. I belong next to the ocean or, at the very least, water. I love an unimpeded view of the horizon because dreams are clarified in places without obstacles. Anything is possible with your back to the land.
I could have been a factory, or a bungalow, or a skyscraper, but I very much feel like I am the lighthouse. Sometimes it feels great to stand alone, at other times not. The apparent loneliness of the lighthouse is merely solitude, and solitude is simply loneliness with purpose. I'm never alone when I'm by the ocean. Never.
What if you were challenged to give yourself four walls and a roof, or something of architectural shape and/or significance. What would you be? Where would you stand? Would a lighthouse help to shed some light on yourself if you were lost in life's sea, or would you, too, be a lighthouse?
Friday, September 18, 2009
To say that life in NYC is different than NB is like saying Mulroney is different than Mother Teresa. It is always a shock to me to come here directly from home, the Fredericton Airport is not quite the same as LaGuardia. But wait there are similarities: Cambridge-Narrows has The Pines , NYC has Central Park; Cambridge-Narrows has Nan's Country Store and NYC has...everything; Cambridge-Narrows has Bill Jeffrey and NYC has...well, no one can compare really.
I am here working at the Metropolitan Opera, the most famous opera house in the world. I have been singing here for many seasons singing several different roles but what I have done most often is cover. Here is where people get a little confused, covering is like understudying on Broadway for some reason we just use a different term. Ian explains covering in a unique way, he tells people that I am like the back up goaltender in the NHL. I play in the big league but I don't get a lot of ice time;however, I am expected to skate out there and perform when and if they need me.
In an opera house this big anything can happen. With seven performance a week, of seven different operas, it is a big operation. It can sometimes feel like an opera factory. The building itself is huge and whenever I have visitors and take them on a tour they feel that they should be like Hansel and Gretel and leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way out. I know my way around pretty well by now though I discovered a new route to the pay roll office the other day.Colour me green and proud.
When I return here to work, especially in the fall, it truly feels like back to school. We have a corridor of lockers, a cafeteria, and rehearsals that can sometimes feel like classes.Welcome back to Met High School! While one can feel part of the great faceless herd in this city there are people at the Met who are old friends now and that is a great comfort to me so far away from home. We even joke that there is a Canadian table in the cafeteria. No small feat considering there are singers from most every nation at any given moment. The cafeteria is definitely one of the most interesting places hidden away in the bowels of the building. It is one of Ian and Julian's favs and it isn't just the cookies, it is the people watching! Seeing well known singers, directors, conductors, stage hands, cleaning ladies all munching on their sprouts is rather entertaining by times.
I consider myself fortunate and grateful to have worked here for as many seasons as I have. Not only have I developed personally as an artist but I really feel,more than anything, that it has been an education for me as a teacher. Watching rehearsals and performances has been a school like no other.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Take a look at this man...he's 62 years old and a grandfather. That's his skateboard, not his son's or his grandson's. He also windsurfs and road bikes. He'd be my role model except for one small indiscretion on his part...he used to spend his days wwwwww....., wwwwwww....., wwwwwww.... (I can hardly say the word).....working! He had a jjjjjj.....,jjjjj....., jjjjj......job!
Wow, that was exhausting.
I struggle with role models...can you think of any for me? Feel free to post a comment, unless you're going to say Paris Hilton.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I return to the Cafe De La Grave year after year because the owners have taken a rather ordinary building and created magic on the inside. They've done this without great expense. There are no slick draperies or fancy seating. The tables are wood and many of them have been painted by local artists. The walls are lined with rough old boards, planked horizontally and adorned with curious works of art by local Quebecois artists. On another wall are shelves, containing books I'll never read...it doesn't matter.
They've created an aesthetic that appeals to me, and apparently many others.
Cafe De La Grave is busy like no place that I've ever seen in my home province of Nouveau Brunswick. Why?
I see a number of reasons. First and foremost is the atmosphere. They've created a landscape within the walls. When you walk through the doors you're immediately taken away from wherever you've come. It's escapism. our troubles melt away.
The menu is small but thoughtful. Last evening I dined on a smoked mackerel bagel with side salad and frites maison. It's worth tearing apart my meal for the sake of investigative gastronomy. The bagel was not one of those horrible puffy dough pucks that we find at the Superstore. Neither was it poisoned by the hand of the Pillsbury Doughboy. The smoked mackerel was caught in the waters off this archipelago, and smoked to perfection. It was schooled with cream cheese, capers, tomatoes, onion and fresh sprouts. Adorning the plate was a simple side salad of leafy greens, cucumbers, shredded carrots, radish, onion and sprouts. To turn the bagel into a meal, it was joined by frites maison and mayo. The fries were authentic, neither SuperFried nor TastyTatered. I could live on them alone.
It was cold outside last evening, so the warmth of the cafe felt particularly embracing. It was like stepping into your favourite wool sweater. The sandy warm lighting dropped from the ceiling to each individual table, casting an intimate glow. Animated conversation emanated from every table. The French, socially, are exuberant. As a boring Englishman, I watch with regret, but we are who we are.
The evening could have ended there and it would have far surpassed the buttoned down dining that I find in most New Brunswick restaurants, but it didn't. Then she began to play....
Earlier in the evening I had spotted the proprietor of the cafe. I believe she was the niece of one of the original owners. She was a pleasant girl with a pretty complexion, dark hair pulled back to a short pony tail. She moved easily throughout the cafe, greeting her regular customers with European embraces.
When she played she moved rhythmically with the tides...gently back and forth. She was transformed by the instrument, like the girl next door who shed her glasses and permitted her hair to fall upon her shoulders. The sound of the accordion filled the room with warm shiraz, and I was happily swimming in it.
Can you think of a place in your little world that combines atmosphere, great food, music and art?
I can't, at least not in New Brunswick, and it makes me profoundly sad. Four hours of driving and a five hour ferry ride is a high price to pay for an eyeful, earful, and plateful of inspiration, but if that's what it takes....
But wait! I don't have to drive to les Iles De La Madeleine to find all that...I get that at home. It's opera and guitar instead of accordion, and the frites maison are plain old spuds, and I have to wash my own dishes, and the ceiling in my living room is atrocious.
But all of that can change. This winter I'm going to renovate my home. I'm also going to renovate my wife's home, if she'll let me. It'll become the Cafe Des Vartistes, and you're all invited!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The hundred mile diet is virtually non-existent here in les Iles de la Madeleine. Even worse, I'm back, like a crack ho, on the baked goods, but only because the Madlinot understand that making pastry is an art form (think Renaissance). When I eat something freshly baked (from frozen) at Tim Horton's, I feel only remorse and cavities (think Industrial devolution).
I had a croissant aux amandes the other day from La Fleur du Sable, an artisanal boulangerie. The pastry chef grew up in France and trained in Montreal. All of his breads are au naturel and free of sugar and other distractions. His pastries are 'to die for', but not in the Tim Horton's sense. You actually feel good eating a pastry made by proud hands that care.
The hundred mile diet did show up yesterday morning for a few hours, but not as you might expect. The local waves were intent on munching any windsurfers within a hundred miles. We went to a beach called Corfu, named after the ship Corfu that ran aground a number of decades ago. All that remains are the faces and the names of the wives, the sons and the daughters....and also some gnarled steel that lives in and out of the waves.
Corfu was angry yesterday. The air was a moist and frigin 11 degrees. The wind was blowing 40-50 kilometres per hour. The waves were breaking with attitude. I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, so I plunked my dumper on the sand and spent the morning photographing those who dared. There were only a handful of windsurfers who took up the challenge. Crazy Dave Cuthbertson, pictured above, was one of them. To put things in perspective, he was about 15 feet above the water in that image. The wind and waves wanted to kill him, but they were denied.
The best windsurfer in the islands got washed hard, pinned under his sail in a Maytag maelstrom. He was hit in the face by his equipment and ended up wearing a welt on his cheek. He said that he thought he was going to die. This guy could spin circles around me on the water. I felt somewhat justified in loafing on the beach like an artisanal baguette, though perhaps, in reality, I was a Bit Timid...not quite the real thing.
Monday, September 14, 2009
The image above is one in a series of photographs which celebrate the beauty of the wave. We've all stood by the shore during a storm and watched large waves jack up into furious towers, pounding the shore and clawing at the rocks. Impressive and primal.
There is beauty, art and music to be found in the little wave as well. The wavelet in my image was two inches tall (about five centimetres for anyone born after 1970). The repetitive arcs on the bottom of the image are created by panning (moving) the camera while using a slow exposure. Every little point of light begins as a highlight on a dark, wet pebble. The motion of the camera turns them into grins...
...and grin I do. From ear to ear. From coast to coast.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Having fun in les Iles de la Madeleine. That's me on the left, with my windsurfing buddy Crazy Dave Cuthbertson on the right. If you look closely at my feet, you'll realize that my feet are not in the straps, or even on the board. I had to pull the chute on this jump, free falling into the ocean. Fun, fun, fun.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
Les Iles de la Madeleine are a pleasant mix of sandy dunes and hillocks. There are no mountains here, just bulbous and undulating hills. You might think that they were made of grass until one of them meets the sea where its rocky heart is exposed.
It seems as though each island, and there are a few substantial islands in this archipelago, has a cross on top of a large hill. There's a church on Cap-Aux-Meules (the main commercial island) that's the size of a small mountain. I'm told that it's one of the largest wooden churches anywhere. I have yet to go inside this church, though entering church has never been one of my defining characteristics.
The hill in this image, where the cross rests, is called Les Demoiselles and it's one of my favourite hikes, mostly because it takes a scant five minutes to summit (supplemental oxygen not necessary). A red haired fox, no relation to Megan, accompanied me part way up yesterday morning. The company was appreciated since all others, save for a few fishermen, were asleep.
Les Demoiselles are best viewed before sunrise. I made my way there around 6 a.m. and watched the sun pierce the horizon. Glorious! For me it was a religious experience, of sorts.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Sorry Forrest, but life is definitely not like a box of chocolates. It's closer to a can of tuna.
Yesterday I stumbled over a three and a half foot long tuna while strolling along Martinique Beach on Nova Scotia's delicious Eastern Shore. I was awestruck by its beauty and strength, even in death, but my how the mighty had fallen. It made me think about my life as a tuna.
We're all tuna at some point. Sometimes we're a happy slice of seared ahi (yellowfin tuna) served with mango lime salsa. We are warm and beautiful. At other times we are as cold as art. Still beautiful...a slice of raw tuna wrapped around pristine rice, served on a snow white plate. Sashimi, I suppose, respects the tuna for its strength and purity.
Most of us are tuna sandwiches. We fly through life under the culinary radar.
Occasionally we wash up on a beach to suffer the indignity of having twelve year old boys throw rocks at our bloated bodies. Our beauty is lost on them, but not others. This is as bad as it gets for the tuna.
Life as canned tuna isn't so bad, at times. Sometimes we manage to find a slice of homemade bread to cuddle up with. A little curry can spice us up our lives. Mayo makes us palatable to most. Of course we have our down days when we're caught between mushy Wonder Bread slices, then stuffed into a somber bag. As the morning warms we begin to sweat. At lunchtime we're unceremoniously dumped into a cafeteria bin alongside suffering salami and battered peanut butter.
Life as a tuna can be a challenge. Will you be parting the waves today, or will some freckled kid trade you in for onion rings and a Snickers?
Start swimming Forrest. Swim, Forrest, swim.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
He's flying quite well. In fact, he's soaring like a pro. Has mother nature sent me, or Julian, a sign? Earlier in the summer we had six golden-eye ducks leave the nest in our oak tree. It looked like a scary leap from the comfort of the nest at first, but they managed. It seems that the young ones do well when they leave the nest. It's the way of nature. But what of the parents?
Friday, September 4, 2009
If you order oysters in Prince Edward Island, you'll get oysters. If you order oysters at the Calgary Stampede then you might get prairie oysters...an unpleasant surprise. Prairie oysters rank right up there with shamrock shakes, pickled eggs and headcheese. Some things weren't meant to leave one body only to re-enter another. God only knows what goes into a shamrock shake. The last time I had a one was the day my taste buds died.
My tongue is not fond of pickled ovulation or cheese that is mysteriously meaty. On the hundred mile diet I've enjoyed eating healthy food that's grown locally. I like food that's eminently recognizable. I've eaten many items that I love, and a few that required a 'getting to know you' period of acclimatization. Take beets, for example. Historically I've never gone wild over beets, but on the hundred mile diet I've embraced them like old friends. Yesterday, Julian and I tried to enjoy a few beets after a feast of baked beans.
I had cooked the beets the day before, boiling them into submission. I hadn't sliced them up, so they were lurking in my fridge au naturel. I put a pair of big ones on a small plate and then thought to myself 'these look like bull testicles'. They were uncomfortable looking; big, crimson, almost swollen. They looked angry.
Prior to retrieving the beets I had been playing a game with Julian. In my attempt to prepare him for university life, I had him partaking in a silly, fill-in-the-blank word game.
You've just eaten a meal and you need to clean your teeth. You're looking to buy a paste to clean your teeth. You go into a pharmacy and ask to purchase some ________? Hint: teeth and paste.
Julian's answer was 'teeth paste'. Not bad, he might survive in the big city, on his own, I thought.
I kept the game going when I presented him with the two beets on a plate.
These look like ________ testicles. I was certain he'd say bull or buffalo.
After a few careful seconds of deep thought, Julian came back with the response "Barney's." "These look like Barney's testicles." You know what? He was right. They did. I could barely eat them after his comment. It's amazing how thinking about Barney, or his testicles, can put you off your meal.
The scary part of the whole exercise was that Julian didn't come up with just one hilarious and brilliant answer. He came up with three.
His second and third choices were Dino The Dinosaur and Grimace.
Julian has proven to me that he's a clever, quick-witted thinker who sees the big picture. He'll do well when I drop him off at Dalhousie University on Sunday. He can fend for himself with ease, I'm convinced, and he'll do it with humour or intelligence, hopefully both.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Federal Bureaucrat (high school drop out): Congratulations, you've got the job.
Bubbles The Chimp (PhD): Ooo ooo ooo ah ah ah.
Federal Bureaucrat (still uses Oxy 5): You'll start on Monday. Your job title will be Senior Meteorologist. Welcome to Environment Canada, Bubbles!
Bubbles The Chimp (fondling self) : Ooo ooo ooo ah ah ah.
Michael Jackson's death has left a lot of people out of work: plastic surgeons, pharmacists, Liz Taylor, Quincy Jones, thirty thousand knot-hole peeking paparazzi, three carnies, Dr.Conrad Murray, and most notably Bubbles The Chimp. This Bubbles link is worth checking out, just in case you think you're eccentric. You ain't got nothin' on MJ.
You might wonder why I'd choose to have a common chimpanzee talking with a federal bureaucrat. To be perfectly blunt, it's because I believe that Environment Canada is run by monkeys. Bubbles, now under-employed, was simply looking for some work. In fairness to Environment Canada, the forecasting of weather in our Maritime climate is a dark art, perhaps best left to the wisdom of someone who reads the coffee grinds in the bottom of their Tim's roll-up-the-rim-to-lose, double-double cup (just before throwing it in the ditch).
Most of the time, the Environment Canada weather monkeys get the weather sort of almost close to being nearly half right, more or less. Usually less. When it comes to forecasting wind they'd easily be outsmarted by a quarter cartload of simians.
You probably need your grade 10 to get an interview at Environment Canada, though to forecast wind you need little more than the wherewithal to stack a few crates and get at the banana. The general public doesn't give a tinker's damn about the wind, with the exception of Marge Simpson and those of her ilk who keep the beehive hairdo alive (there's one in everyone's neighbourhood, even mine). Oh yes, there's one other group who voraciously devours the wind forecast...that masochistic segment of society known as the windsurfers.
I am a windsurfer. And I hate Environment Canada.
New Brunswick is not a windy place, so to 'be....a windsurfer in this place' (Être ...ici on le peut sur une planche à voile) is not a sentence easily served. The Environment Canada monkeys keep lifting us up with the dangling promising of a windy forecast, only to pull the crate from under our feet...time after time. You'd think we, the windsurfers, would learn, but like the crack ho, we're always eager for one more fix.
A typical summer day in New Brunswick, like the two we had in August, offers sunny skies, temperatures in the mid-twenties and light winds. Occasionally we're given a 20 km/h forecast which is the absolute bare minimum a windsurfer needs to get planing. A professional windsurfer living in Maui wouldn't get out of his bunny filled bed for anything less than 40 km/h.
A forecast of 20 km/h usually involves 4 hours of taunting 10 km/h winds with one gust of 21 km/h that lasts no longer than an honest thought in Brian Mulroney's brain. That's not fair to poor Brian Mulroney, the brainless bugger. That one gust is recorded on Environment Canada's precision weather meter (a flag) at the Fredericton airport, then reported on the E.C. web site, thus saving their bacon, and jobs. Sometimes I'm amazed that the government cuts the budget of the CBC, yet with the rising cost of imported tropical fruit, they never fire or publically flog a single chimp.
My whip awaits the call.
Yesterday's forecast was for southwest winds of 30 km/h... a delicious offering. A forecast of 20 km/h almost certainly means a frustrating day on the water. A forecast of 30 km/h should mean there will be wind, otherwise why bother with the more optimistic forecast.
Have you ever seen a grown man throw a tantrum?
Yesterday I was skunked. Skunked is the term given to a day when the forecast wind doesn't deliver. Yesterday, however, was a minor skunking. I've been burned so many times that I'm blacker than bicycle at night. The mac daddy of all blown forecasts happened about a decade ago (lest we forget). The E.C. monkeys called for NE winds 40 to 70 km/h. My board shorts were wet before they hit the water! I loaded all of my windsurfing gear, drove to Grand Lake and then got royally skunked.
You've heard about people 'going postal'? I was so far beyond postal that I was ready to go meteorological. It's a good thing no one from Environment Canada crossed my path that day. To make matters worse I twisted my ankle in the parking lot when I slipped on a banana peel.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Ten days ago I chased a hurricane into Halifax late one Sunday evening. I was half expecting to paddle my friend's car the last thirty miles into the city, following rain sodden roads that ran like torrents. Instead I found dry roads, light winds and a clear Lite-Brite sky. I could hardly believe that the sky was unfettered as I was expecting chaos from above. I craned my neck and drew my eyes up to the star dappled beauty of the black night sky. The big dipper poured happiness and wonder upon the Jetta's starboard shoulder.
I commented to my chauffeur, Crazy Dave, that I had lost touch with the stars. People, in general, have lost touch with the night sky. It wasn't always that way as early European used sextants to take positional readings from the sun, moon and stars. They still managed to ram their ships up on reefs, but that was just a bit of Cousteau friendly fore-planning. With the advent of the Weather Network, portable GPS units and sweater filling meteorologists, few people make eye contact with the stars anymore?
As we approached Halifax and the cross harbour Mouth O' Darts, while still beyond the eerie glow that cities invariably emanate, I marveled at the big dipper, and the north star. I didn't actually admire the north star because I couldn't find it. I discovered later that the north star, Polaris, sits offshore of the little dipper, not the big dipper. I felt like a bigger dipshit than normal for being so adrift. That evening I promised myself that I'd pay more attention to the night sky in the future.
The future was near because just the other day I was having dinner with my friends the ecologists/biologists/conservationists/writers/artists/and all around nice peoplists, the Weatherleys. One half of this dynamic duo said "have you seen Jupiter?"
My answer? "No." At least not knowingly. I did see a bright star up by the moon, I thought to myself stupidly. Of course, it was Jupiter, and not a star. My patient and generous friends instructed me to use my binoculars or spotting scope to get a good view of Jupiter. When I returned home later that evening, I did just that. I could see Jupiter and four of its moons. It was, in a word, exciting.
Jupiter is huge, apparently. It contains two and a half times the mass of all the other planets combined. Because of its composition, Jupiter is known as a gassy giant, not unlike Uranus, Neptune, Saturn and my brother Doug. Jupiter was named after a Roman god which is befitting of such a grand planet. Planets like Saturn and Mars were named after defunct, or soon to be defunct, car companies. Mars was named after a chocolate bar. Earth was named after some worm worthy, top notch potting soil, and Uranus, well....some things are better left untouched.
I can remember, as a school boy, the utter delight in the discovery a planet called 'your anus'. I would titter like a toddler at the very mention of the planet in science class. Later on, some politically correct assholes started calling it 'you're in us', but I think that your anus is now back in vogue, so to speak. It's kind of a goofy name, like Pluto, but at least it doesn't rhyme with Venus.
I would encourage you to get in touch with Jupiter. You'll see it to the left of the moon in the early evening and night sky. You should be able to see its moons with a good set of binoculars, a spotting scope or high powered Bubbles glasses.
One of these nights I'm going to grab a blanket, find a meadow in the middle of nowhere and lay flat on my back. I'll study the night sky. On second thought, that's not very befitting of a leisurologist. I'll find a meadow in the middle of nowhere, place a comfy sofa or a futon on the ground, and study the night sky. I'm sure that I'll discover far off places that I'll never, ever visit in this lifetime. Places like the Andromeda galaxy, Uranus or Minto.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
He was born with the name George, but everyone called him Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag (he who necks with trees). Though you might not recognize his nickname, you'll recognize it as a First Nation name...there's just something about the spelling.
Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag was a bit of an outcast within his tribe. As a child, he acted no differently that the other children of the Bigmackatac tribe. He built toy bows and arrows, threw rocks at rabbits and perfected his armpit farts. He didn't stand out among his peers, until he reached the adolescent years and started showing an interest in girls. Sadly, Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag didn't have much luck with the ladies.
On one memorable evening during an uncharacteristically warm March evening, he took his date out to a local restaurant, certain that a nice meal would win her heart.
I'll have the pemmican burger with a side order of cattail fries. My date would like the porcupine casserole.
Would you'se like drinks?
Just lake water, thanks.
No problem, hun.
Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag and his date, Kouchiyalemmeordaformyself, had a huge blowout after the meal. She was incensed that he would have the gall to order for her. Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag knew that porcupine casserole was the house specialty and he wanted to impress his date. Instead, the evening was a disaster. Kouchiyalemmeordaformyself went back to her teepee immediately after dinner.
Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag was alternately scratching his head, wondering what went wrong, and banging it against the old sugar maple on the edge of the village. The sound of the banging resonated throughout the village. He repeatedly smacked his head against the tree, in frustration, until the bruised bark of the ancient maple started to swell. Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag rested his angry head against the swollen bark. The maple started to ooze a clear sap, some of which brushed Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag's seldom kissed lips. The sweetness of the sap crept onto his tired tongue.
Then the lights went on!
Actually it was Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag's father who came out with a torch, wondering if his eldest son was okay.
Dad, lick this tree!
Sorry, son, remember what happened when I licked that toad?
Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag's father wandered back home leaving Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag alone in the dark. He slept under the tree on that warm and fateful evening. The next morning he was covered in sap. Winnie, his pet bear cub, was licking his face.
Stay here, Winnie, I'll be right back. Mactasucknasaptaquacnekeag returned with a birch bark lined basket and began to collect the sap....
....and this is how the maple syrup industry was born. Well, this is my version.
If you want to read another version, perhaps one more believable, then click here and you'll be magically taken to the web site of a company that puts small quantities of maple syrup in maple shaped bottles, then sells them to unsuspecting tourists at Canadian airports for extraordinary profits. The link will take you to a page that offers a historical perspective. You'll also find more information at Wikipedia, should you care to pontificate on sugar maples (what kind of an ass would do that?).
I learned that Quebec produces about 75% of the world's maple syrup, though, in my opinion, Vermont is a more sap savvy seller of the succulent syrup. In any event....
Vive le Québec doux!
I have a bit of 'a thing' with maple syrup, as you might know. It's my favourite flavour in this world, and all the other worlds of which I'm aware. It's hard to believe that some First Nation person discovered maple syrup, likely hundreds or thousands of years ago. He may or may not have been a tree hugger, but he certainly must have necked with a few trees. Or perhaps it was a she hugger? We'll never know. I can't imagine being left alone in the forest, and discovering that a Pepsi sweet substance poured out of a tree. I pity all those suckers who necked with pine, spruce, oak, larch, poplar and hawthorn before discovering the joys of acer saccharum.
I like referring to our native peoples as First Nations people. It's much better than calling them Indians. They were called Indians because the idiotic white sailors of five hundred years ago were looking for India when the stumbled upon North America and the Caribbean.
'Oh well, we'll call them Indians, anyway'.
I can't imagine confusing Bob Marley with Indira Gandhi, but these mistakes were made before the advent of field guides. Bob's knit Rasta hat should have been a dead give away. Even towering turbans aren't that funky!
Soon we'll be identifying majestic maples when the red leaves of autumn sweeten our landscape, as in the picture I chose for today's blog. That image was taken in 2005, so don't fret that the trees are already turning...we've got a few weeks of summer left yet. Hopefully.