Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Fecal Position




Cambridge-Narrows is a splendid place in which to live, just be careful on whose toes you step, or for that matter, where you step in general.

A few years ago our Mayor and Village Council had the foresight to acquire a fifteen acre property in downtown Cambridge-Narrows. Not everyone thought it was a good idea at the time, and some cried quite loudly at a public meeting to discuss the acquisition. Some of these vocal critics may still be whining but I wouldn't know because I seem to travel in different social circles. Everyone I know seems to love the property, now known as the Pines Conservation Park.

The Pines Conservation Park is a work in progress. We're still trying to figure out exactly how it should be developed, if at all. Certainly some walking trails are needed. These trails will allow individuals to explore the shore, cliffs, fields and forest. Some scenic overlooks might be in order, since the view of the north lake and western narrows is quite sumptuous.

There is some discussion at the moment regarding what rules and regulations need to be in place so that the park is safe and fun for everyone. For example, are ATVs welcome? The answer is no. Or should dogs be allowed? The Pines Conservation Park is a great place to walk your dog...or is it? A conservation park, by my definition, is a place where humans should be able to enjoy (relatively) untouched natural beauty. Ideally I'd like to see a place where a forest could grow old without fear of the almighty chainsaw.

I'd also like to be able to walk in a place where I'm not worried about stepping in a pile of dog shit. Do dogs belong in a conservation park? If yes, can we trust dog owners to scoop their poop? So far we can't.
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Come here, Watson! Looks like Fido has left us a little evidence at the crime scene!!
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The Pines Conservation Park is open for everyone, but no one deserves to step in Lassie's little lumps. So, should dogs be allowed in the Pines Conservation Park? Is the park for humans and pets, or just humans? You tell me. I'm still shitting on the fence, sho to shpeak.
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Seriously, I'm not sure if dogs should be allowed in the park. In Central Park (New York City), there are dogs everywhere, and the squirrels are nervous. For the most part, dog owners are responsible in NYC and they clean up after their pets, but there's still a lot of dung being flung. I wouldn't dare sit on the grass in Central Park, and if I did you can rest assured that I'd wash my hands and launder my Levis when I got home.
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I wouldn't want the Pines Conservation Park to become a place where I always had to watch where I put my foot. Usually it's in my mouth, so you see my concern.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Put Your Money Where My Mouth Is



I had the good fortune to be speaking with the woman who runs one of New Brunswick's largest arts organizations at the recent Order of New Brunswick investiture ceremony. Somehow the conversation drifted away from her brand of the arts to mine. Yes, I switched the conversation from symphonies to surfing.

I was telling her about the Daily Gleaner's front page coverage of the surfer who was escorted to 'safety' while innocently (and safely) paddling his surfboard in the St.John River. Her reply?

"And they won't cover the arts!"

She made a valid point. The Daily Gleaner does a less than honorable job of covering the arts in the greater Fredericton area (IMLTHO). It's too bad, because there's a lot going on. The Telegraph Journal does an admirable job of promoting the arts, but the Gleaner falls short.

I'm not sure what the mandate of the Gleaner is, perhaps it's simply to deliver a daily crossword puzzle to the masses. Maybe it's to illustrate the dangers of driving in general. They give a lot of coverage to car wrecks and overturned transport trucks. They do a pretty good job of covering local sporting events, though there is a lot lot of room for some creative coverage (i.e. there's more happening than just basketball, baseball and hockey). Lord knows (Bernard et al.) that they give plenty of coverage to local politics, as they should. Something is definitely missing though.

It's easy to whine, especially when you have a blog. Rather than be part of the problem, I think that I should become part of the solution. So, in a very uncharacteristic move, I'm going to offer my services to the Daily Gleaner. I'm willing to retire from my current job as Editor and Publisher of theleisurologist.blogspot.com in order to save the Daily Gleaner. I'm willing to become the Gleaner's publisher, and save it from itself. The Gleaner needs some personality, and I'm the boy to put a smirk on the cover and a smile on the back page.

The Daily Gleaner has virtually no personality. That's not to say that they don't have talented employees, it's just that they don't have the creative freedom to express themselves. The Gleaner, at best, strives to tell the news. I'd like to see a paper that tries to put its finger on the pulse of the city. Fredericton does have a pulse, and though it may be racing underneath, it appears to be rather sedate on the surface. I'd like to expose the Fredericton that we rarely see, because it's pretty interesting.

Television and radio have their 'personalities', why shouldn't the little old Fredericton newspaper have some? I'd like to see the Gleaner help its writer(s), assuming there's more than one, to create a persona. I'd like to read the views of someone with a pickle up their bum, so to speak. Forget that, let's make it a jalapeno pepper! I'd like to read an opinion for a change, and not one that's so conservative that it doubles as a sedative.

Newspapers are dying because they're not evolving. They're being run like most churches...stuck in their old-fashioned ways. Evolve or die, I say.

Perhaps I should ease into the Gleaner as the Arts Editor, since Publisher may be too much of a leap? I love the arts and I love to write, so I'm a natural fit. I can even do my own photography. I'd be perfect! The only problem is that I don't have what you'd call an impressive résumé, though I could manage to embellish my old one to suit the arts editor job:

Music: at the tender age of ten, while a grade four student at Forest Hill Elementary School, I received the strap for booing a visiting girls choir. My wrist was bleeding when the Principal was done with me. This proves that I have always been a vocal music critic and that I'm prepared to die for my beliefs, rather than clap like a mindless puppet. It also proves that I was a rude and thoughtless child, but I got over that by my second year of university.

Theatre: I was awarded the Best Actor award in Mrs.Simmons' grade eight drama class. In university I saw a TNB play once, though I can't remember what it was. I saw STOMP in New York City eight years ago and felt like I paid way too much for my ticket. I regularly fall asleep watching movies, but only the bad ones which wouldn't be worth reviewing anyway.

Dance: I was kicked out of my grade twelve phys-ed class when we were being taught how to square dance. I wish that the Daily Gleaner had covered that story, but they were only interested in basketball, baseball and hockey. I guess that square dancing isn't really the arts, or even dance. It's a sport, so I'll give it no more thought. I've never been to the ballet which is a good thing. I could report on it with a fresh new set of eyes. No one talks about the codpiece anymore, but that could change.

Painting: let me just say up front that I believed, in nineteen eighty nine, that it was ludicrous for the National Gallery of Canada to pay one point eight million dollars for Barnett Newman's Voice Of Fire painting. At least, for that piece of 'art', it was a crazy amount of doh! (Barnett, as a businessman, you are a genius!). As advertising/marketing for the National Gallery, the purchase was pure genius. Twenty years later, I'm still talking about it. I tend to cling to things...just the other day I was singing the Lite-Brite theme song, which hasn't been broadcast in three and a half decades.

If I had a cell phone, I'd have the Lite-Brite theme song as my ring tone, and I'd leave my cell phone on while attending concerts, movies, theatre, dance...just to shake things up a bit. The arts scene in Fredericton needs an injection of life, attitude and opinion. The Daily Gleaner is the obvious choice to make that happen.

If the Publisher of the Gleaner is reading my blog (there's no chance of that), then he/she can call me anytime to offer me the job as Arts Editor. Actually, you can call anytime except Thursday night, that's my one night a week when I'm involved with a local arts group, or is it a sports organization? You decide...now, do si do!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Headline News: Surfing Is Not A Crime!


I can just imagine the call to 911:
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"There's someone in the river! I think that he jumped off the Westmorland Street bridge, or maybe fell out of a canoe!! I just saw him clinging to a thin piece of ice, flailing his arms in what looked to be a front crawl motion. The ice that he was clinging to is white and looks to be about six feet long. It's pointy at one end and has three small fin-line thingies at the other end."
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I doubt the call ended there.
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"You'd better get the rescue boat, or a Sea King helicopter to pluck him from the river. It looked to me like he was wearing a black suit, leather mittens and ankle high boots, though it was hard for me to tell as I was washing down hash brownies with magic mushroom tea while going over my lottery ticket numbers in my Pontiac Acadian while driving to the north side."
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"Will I get a reward for saving this person's life?"
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Yes, you'll be stripped naked and publicly flogged in front of City Hall by Brad Woodside himself, then you'll be fed apple fritters and set ablaze. On a cheerier note, you'll get your picture on the cover of the Daily Gleaner.
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Yesterday morning, while staying at my parents' home, I happened to glance at the Daily Gleaner.
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Mistake number one.
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You'll remember that this is the very same newspaper that encourages its readership to sell their eight, ten and twelve foot sections of eavesdropping in the classified section. On the cover of the Gleaner was a picture of a man paddling a surfboard with a bright orange Zodiacesque rigid hulled inflatable boat shadowing him. The boat was emblazoned with generous letters on its side. They were arranged to spell Public Safety Marine Unit #819. The look on the surfer's face said 'I'm going to kick someone's ass for this'. I don't blame him, in fact, I'll throw a few punches myself.
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The poor bugger put his wetsuit on and took his surfboard for a paddle in the St.John River. He was simply trying to train his muscles for an upcoming surfing trip to California. Wearing a full wetsuit, mitts and booties, he was no threat to anyone, least of all himself.
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The article in the Gleaner stated that the unnamed surfer was met onshore by the Royal Fredericton Unmounted Police who encouraged him to call them first before trying any stunts like that in the future.
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Ian, you usually pee while standing up, right? Why don't you try peeing sitting down for a change. I know, I know...it's not the norm for you, or any man in the greater Fredericton area, that's why I'm suggesting that you call the Fredericton Police before you do it.
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It's worth reading some of the fifteen comments that people posted regarding this defining moment in Fredericton's water wed history. It's enlightening to see others' reaction to this surfer's blatant disregard for the myopic Fredericton public, with whom he shares the river. I'd suggest that he buys an industrial sized tube of Compound W and wax his board with it. It's not as good as surf wax, but it might alleviate the discomfort caused by worry warts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oh! New Brunswick!!



Had we been driving toward a checkpoint in Kandahar, I have no doubt that we would have been shot on the spot (by our own troops). I wouldn't have blamed them either, we looked both armed and dangerous. We would have deserved their suspicion. The camo Da Kine roof rack pads just made us that much more menacing looking.

Our car was loaded with old paint cans, empty gasoline jugs, various obsolete chemicals and a nasty collection of recyclables. We were loaded to the gills. Put a rocking chair on our roof and we were the Beverly Hillbillies. You never would have guessed that we were driving to Fredericton so that my wife could receive the highest honour awarded in our province: the Order of New Brunswick.

My wife is certainly deserving of the award. She has done a lot to further the cultural and musical scene in this province. She left the rodent race of Toronto in 1992 and made Cambridge-Narrows her home base. Her colleagues were suggesting that the move would turn into career suicide. We're still chuckling over that. New Brunswick was far from career suicide...it gave Wendy, me, and our son, a chance to grow in a place of natural beauty and relative safety. I say 'relative safety' because it was a dangerous place until Richard Flynn realized that he was no longer in England and started driving on the right side of the road.

Wendy lives as close to an idyllic life as can be imagined. She travels the world and gets her fix of city life: culture, music and sushi, then returns to the bucolic Washademoak Lake and shares what she has learned with other aspiring artists, singers and the leisurologist. Not a bad life at all.

Wendy is a class act, at least ninety-nine percent of her. Yesterday, on the drive into Kandahar, I mean Fredericton, I caught a glimpse of the other one percent of Wendy Nielsen...the dark side. Wendy (Darth Nielsen) said something that I'm sure she wished she could have retracted immediately. I suppose she could have nipped my ears off with her light saber, but she didn't. Being in the presence of the editor and publisher of theleisurologist.blogspot is dangerous business. Anything spoken aloud in my presence is considered part of the public domain. Once it's out of the mouth, it's mine! And yours.

As I mentioned earlier, our car was jammed packed with recyclables that were destined for the big blue bins of Oromocto, just across the street from the insanely busy Tim Fatwa Hortons donut reglazing factory. As were were driving through the Base Gagetown woods Wendy was thinking about unloading our cans, plastics and papers when she blurted out the following:

"A good place to rob people would be the recycling drop-off."

I said "pardon?"

She explained her comment to me. To her credit, she wasn't thinking that it would be a good place for her to rob others, as if she needed a few extra dollars for drugs or bingo. There was irony in her comment, though, given that I was delivering her to receive the Order of New Brunswick. She really thought that it would be a good place for someone to rob her. Her purse would be sitting in the car unattended as we were distracted by unloading our three metric tons of reusable rubbish.

Wendy is always thinking of others. She's getting the Order of New Brunswick this morning for her musical contributions to the province, but she could just as easily get it for her compassion for others.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Don't Look Like A Richard


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The alarm was set for seven eh em. Rather than waking to the sound of an irate buzzer at such an uncivilized hour, I set the alarm to 'radio' the night before. There's nothing more 'invigorating' than starting your morning with a healthy dose of the CBC news. I love CBC but, honestly, I hate the news.
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I gave up watching television four years ago because I couldn't stand the way that the news made me feel. Sorry Mr.Mansbridge, I love you and I miss you but I just couldn't take the content. Steve Murphy and the (almost) Live At Five crew? No tears were shed in bidding them adieu because I never watched them anyway. I'm amazed that anyone does, quite frankly.
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When my radio alarm finally massaged my brain into consciousness, I was greeted by the headline news. It was so incredibly moving and memorable that I've now forgotten, an hour and a half later, what they were talking about. When the news broadcast ended, my wife turned to me and said "well, that was pretty boring."
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"Were you hoping for a train wreck?", I replied. If you read my blog about Stewiacke, you know that's what I was secretly hoping for, though I would have settled for a story about the bankruptcy of Tim Horton's. I'd take great joy in hearing that the high cost of nicotine made their coffee no longer profitable. Nicotine in Tim's coffee? You've got to be joking. I'm not joking when I say that people are suggesting that, though it is patently untrue that Tim's spikes their coffee with anything more potent than refined sugar, artery clogging cream or 10W30. The fatwa continues.
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The only thing that I remembered from this morning's news broadcast was that Richard (Dick) Cheney was badmouthing President Obama for his indecision on the future of American troops in Afghanistan. Apparently Obama has been slow to decide what course of action is appropriate. Good for him! It's a complicated issue that can't be resolved overnight. Richard (Dick) Cheney seems to be a little trigger happy if you ask me. His track record on the Iraq invasion is hardly confidence building either. So far 4351 American soldiers have died in Iraq, over 30 000 have been wounded. This for a war that was founded on misinformation.
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I think that Richard (Dick) Cheney should shut his big fat mouth. In all fairness, he's entitled to his opinion, just like I am. I just wish that he'd share it with people who care to hear his thoughts. Clearly, I am not one of them. He lost his credibility a long time ago.
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I have a friend who often does freelance work for CBC. Her name is Colleen Kitts and she's wonderfully talented, incredibly funny and just plain middle-aged brilliant. I like everything about Colleen, but if I could change only one thing about her, it would be her name. She simply doesn't look like a Colleen. I'm not sure what name I'd give her, certainly not Farrah or Britney. Maybe Cleopatra? Hmmm. Cleopatra Kitts?? I like it (!!), though I might be tempted to spell it Kleopatra Kitts, for radio effect.
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It's funny how some people look like their names. I was hoping that perhaps, this morning, I might have heard one of Kleopatra Kitts' human interest stories on the radio. That would have been refreshing. Instead all I heard about was Richard (Dick) Cheney. To his credit, he looks like his name.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dining With The Blankists/Selling Saint John








Should I have the walnut crusted rack of lamb or the salmon with lobster sauce? Decisions, decisions.
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I enjoyed a spectacularly social evening on Saturday with a group of medical specialists. There was a hematologist, an ear/nose/throat specialist, a speech pathologist, an ER specialist, a perinatal specialist, a pediatrician (ist), two vocalists (sopranos), and me, the leisurologist.
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It would appear that you were invited to this lovely soiree at Rothesay's Shadow Lawn Inn if you were a ______ist.
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Of course this isn't true, but it was a happy coincidence. On the surface you might think that the leisurologist was invited to this party simply because he was married to the vocalist who just happened to have much in common with the wife of the ER doctor. The point could be argued, though this unnecessarily complicates my tale, so perhaps some background information is in order.
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There's an ER doctor who's thinking of moving to Saint John and his wife is a singer/voice teacher. They currently reside in Nova Scotia. The ER doctor's wife is in the exact same business as my wife, so socially they were a perfect fit (plus she's tall like my wife). The ER doctor is a super nice guy and eminently qualified to run the ER department at the Saint John Regional Hospital. He's got an infectious smile (that's a good thing, especially in these trying days of H1N1) and is very comfortable socially. I can see that he'd be a great addition to the team at the Regional. I can see that his wife would make a great addition to the cultural/musical scene in Saint John.
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The doctors were chatting about doctor things. The singers were talking about singer things. I was listening to the wind outside, wondering if the windsurfing would be good in the morning. Everyone was happy, then it hit me...I'm the most important person in the room!
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Ian, you're in a room with people who save lives every day. How can you possibly have the gall to think that you're somehow more important?
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Keep in mind that the underlying reason for this party was to make this ER doctor and his wife feel comfortable and welcome in Saint John, which they overwhelmingly were. We'd all love to have them leave Nova Scotia and become New Brunswickists. I became the most important person in my mind because, apart from being a leisure specialist, I am also a specialist in discussing the virtues of both Saint John and Nova Scotia with ER doctors.
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I have another friend who is an ER doctor and she is emotionally pulled by the tides of the Bay of Fundy on a regular basis. She is also pushed by the swells of the Lawrencetown surf. She used to live in Saint John but now she lives and works in the greater Halifax Metropolitan Region, otherwise known as Dartmouth. She loves Saint John and its people, but she also loves her colleagues in Dartmouth and the life that she has found in Nova Scotia. We often have lengthy discussions about what makes a place a home.
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Saint John has a lot to offer. It took me a long time to warm up to Saint John. As a child I didn't like it at all. As an adult, I love it. The uptown area is full of wonderful architecture and music spills out of the sumptuous Imperial Theatre on a regular basis (see November 28 for a truly special evening). The city has character, and characters. The City Market is like old home week for many...a place to be embraced, loved and fed.
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Saint John's back side is anything but a back side, unless you're into back sides, in which case Rothesay can best be described as bootylicious. I hate myself for using this term, but Rothesay, the back side of Saint John, is truly a delight. It's leafy and quiet and as close to pretty as any town gets. I could live there, which says something.
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Since I know Saint John's heart (cardiologist), soul (psychologist) and back side (proctologist) so well, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in the field but I discovered, on Sunday, that I'm no specialist. I'm more of a general practitioner. I knew nothing of East Saint John. I had never been there before. I took a drive to Mispec Beach and then to the end of the road, finding myself at Cape Spencer. The images that I've provided today are from Cape Spencer. It's just one more reason to live in Saint John.
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So how do you advise your ER friend who's torn by the tides? Saint John or Dartmouth? What's your advice?
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That's easy. Dartmouth! You don't have to be a brain surgeon to know that the surfing is better in Nova Scotia than New Brunswick (where it doesn't exist). For all that I may be, I'm still a leisurologist. Careers are important, but what makes people really interesting is what they do in their spare time.
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Because the other ER doctor and his wife aren't surfers, I'd advise them to move to Saint John. I'll even pay the four dollar toll at the Cobequid Pass if that's what it takes to get them here.
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Wow! Ian!! For you, that's a generous offer!
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Yes, I know. Some decisions in life are easy, some are not. Advice is often easy, especially when you're giving it to someone else. At Shadow Lawn I couldn't decide between the lamb or the salmon, so I ordered the steak.
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Isn't that like trying to choose between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, then opting for Prince Edward Island?
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There are no bad choices at Shadow Lawn, or the Maritimes for that matter. We're lucky to live anywhere here. Think about the alternatives: North Korea, Iraq, Toronto. Work may dictate where we live, but it doesn't dictate how we live. That's what truly matters. You can sing in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. You can heal people equally well in either province, so how do you decide what to do?
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You go with your gut feel (gastroenterologist).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dave C Lost A Kitty Or Two






We all have close calls once in a while. We even joke afterwards that we've just burned up one of our nine lives, as if we were cats. As if that were true of cats.

Cats have one life. Humans have one life. Dave could have easily lost his this morning.

At about 6:15 a.m. my good friend Dave left his house in the darkness. The wind was still howling as it had been all night. The rain was finally starting to abate, though it had been heavy at times through the night. Dave's car was packed with windsurfing gear, ready for an early morning session on the turbulent Bay of Fundy, but it was not meant to be.

Dave swung into my driveway around 6:30 a.m., but seeing no lights in my house he turned around and carried on toward the coast. I was lying awake in my bedroom but with the wind swirling in the trees, I never heard the rumble of his diesel Jetta. I got up around 6:45 a.m. and checked the weather on-line. Fredericton was registering a paltry south 17 km/h of wind. Saint John was getting whipped by west-southwest winds of 61 km/h with gusts to 84 km/h. Anything over 70 km/h riles up the Bay and she likes to slap down those who dare ride on her back.

At 7:13 a.m. my phone rang. I fumbled for the phone in my still dark kitchen. Caller ID told me that D LeBlanc was trying to reach me. I didn't know anyone called D LeBlanc, unless it was Dominic LeBlanc, the politician, who I still didn't know. I thought about croaking out a good morning 'oui, allo' which surely would have won me Brownie points and aided in my run for the federal Liberal leadership, but opted for 'hello' instead. It was Dave. He said that he had a small mishap on the way to Saint John. The road had washed out at Cashol Brook and Dave and his car narrowly escaped a one way trip to the land six feet under...almost literally. He asked if I could go to his house and grab a spare tire and a jack.

Oh, Dave has a flat tire, I surmised.

Next time you plan a casual 'Sunday drive', think about Dave. As he was driving down the dark, wet and foggy road, in an 80 km/h zone, he narrowly escaped what could have been a disaster. Dave's front wheel smacked the hole, make that crater, make that swimming pool which had become a gravel pit. The tire immediately exploded upon impact. It was only his poor driving habit, that of hugging the middle of lonely country roads, that saved him some serious grief.

Oh well, it was time to put the winter tires on anyway.

Dave went back and inspected the hole in the road, not believing what he had just witnessed. In fact, all but three feet of his lane was missing. Gone. Downstream. He left his car by the crater, flashers on, to warn other passing cars, and wandered to the home of D LeBlanc. Fortunately for Dave the lights were on as there was someone home. Even more fortunate for Dave was that the LeBlanc's rather large and aggressive dog didn't hear him. It really wouldn't be much fun to have survived the washed out road only to have a German Shepherd gnaw off your knee cap and nuts.

So, Dave has two less cats in his nine lives (no one's quite sure what the current count is, but it's not seven). When Dave finally made it to the Bay of Fundy around 10 a.m., there was no wind at all.

But what about all the wind that was forecast?

Somewhere out there is a meteorologist with one cat left. That cat had better be nervous.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Initials Are I.D.Varty...For A Reason




We've all done things in our lives of which we're not proud. When I lived in Nigeria I used to bilk hundreds of Westerners out of their life savings by telling them that their great step half-uncle (twice removed), of whose existence they were unaware, had died and left them five million dollars in an unclaimed bank account.
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I would gather names from bulk e-mailings, then send those unknown people the phony request. I'd e-mail the information about the inheritance, simply asking them to send me their bank account information, social insurance number, secret passwords and a one litre bottle of maple syrup. It was too easy. It sure beat that kidney harvesting operation I tried to set up in Las Vegas.

Identity theft and/or fraud is easy, though the 'experts' are trying to make it more of a challenge. I love how my new Mastercard has a secret three digit security code on the back of the card. Sometimes I can't buy anything on-line without divulging my secret three number code. Somebody please define 'secret' for me. It seems to me that as soon as I give some call centre monkey my secret code, then the value of my secret code falls faster than Amy Winehouse's knickers. Those special three numbers aren't going to stop well organized thieves, though it may make the lives of petty criminals more complicated.

For example, let's say I put my garbage out at the end of my driveway next Tuesday morning, something I've forgotten to do for the past three weeks.

That would explain the smell from the garage.

Yes, that would explain why my garage smells like a four day old, gym bag baked Cheez-Whiz sandwich. So, I've put my garbage out and in that garbage are some old Mastercard receipts. Someone, other than a rustling crow, rifles through my garbage and finds my Mastercard receipts. They now have my name and Mastercard number, so they proceed to order some Christmas presents for their family using my card and identity. If they're not asked for the three digit security code, then they're going to have a very merry Christmas indeed, unless they grow a conscience. Figure the odds...about the same as actually having a rich Nigerian great half step-uncle twice removed who decided he wanted to give his fortune away to some knuckle dragging leisurologist living in backwoods New Bums'lick.

I, myself, did honestly, or dishonestly, dabble in identity theft. No one was hurt by my actions. In fact, we had one helluva good time with it. When I was a teenager it seemed that the vast majority of my friends were two years younger than me. The year 1965 seemed to be a banner year for creating the members of my posse. It was a great year for many things; the sexy new Canadian flag was unveiled, the Sound of Music musical was premiered, and Goldie, a London Zoo golden eagle, was recaptured after 13 days of freedom.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (for Goldie). When I was sixteen I was able to drive my fourteen year old friends around, thus making me incredibly popular. I had a great social life until I turned nineteen. Then, all of a sudden, I was able to go to the bars but my posse, being underage, were left standing by the door.

Houston, we have a problem.

When I was seventeen or eighteen, I sent away to get a fake ID so that I could buy beer and cheap wine. I mailed my picture to some unknown company who never questioned my age, or integrity. Two weeks later, voila(!), I had a piece of identification stating solemnly that I was nineteen years old. My, how time flies when you're dishonest. I never actually saw myself as dishonest, just creative and spirited.

I was a role model to my younger friends, and they all wanted to get their hands on a fake ID too. I had one friend who hit the jackpot when it came to getting a fake ID. He found a wallet one night while out on the town. My friend, who I'll call Gib to protect his identity, was a very honest person. There was money in the wallet and he never gave a single thought to keeping it. The wallet was returned to the owner, intact....well, almost.

The wallet contained an NBLCC card (translation: the government sanctioned passport to beer, women and song). NBLCC: New Brunswick Liquor Control Commission. The NBLCC card was the official piece of ID that the old, blind buggers that worked at the liquor store were supposed to see before selling lemon gin to pimply faced non-shavers. My fake ID fooled them every time, though it looked nothing like an NBLCC card. God they were stupid. Or naive. Or indifferent. Or generous. Or instructed by Premier Hatfield to get teens drunk. I'll never know.

The NBLCC card was removed from the wallet before the wallet was returned. Now Gib was in possession of a liquor card, his ticket to good times and a debaucherous lifestyle like the one I had told him that I was enjoying. There was, of course, one small problem. Gib looked nothing like the guy whose picture graced the laminated card. What was Gib going to do?

This called for an identity theft expert/leisurologist. Gib and I took the card back to my basement laboratory where we managed to slice open the end of the card with the patient skill of seasoned neurosurgeons. We were able to delaminate the outer plastic coating from the inner paper card. To celebrate, we went to the mall.
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Great job MacGyver!

Thanks. Do you remember those photo booths that used to be in all of the malls? Perhaps they're still there, I haven't noticed lately. For a few dollars you could get four images on a thin strip of photo paper. Most often these images involved you and as many friends as you could cram into the booth. Everyone would ham it up for the camera. Some people even kept their clothes on!
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These were the days before digital cameras and Photoshop were invented, known as the Dark Ages. We had to be creative back in the late 1970s, and the photo booth was as hi-tech as it got, so off we went. I remember that Gib posed for the most soberly somber, liquor worthy portrait ever taken. We even brought our own backdrop with us, one that most closely resembled the curtain used for the official NBLCC pictures.

Einstein had nothing on you two rocket scientists. Neither did Hermann Oberth, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, or Robert Goddard (all legitimate rocket scientists).

It's true, Gib and I were geniuses, or genii. We returned to my underground lair and continued with our craft project. The NBLCC card had an official stamp on it which was the government's seal of approval for nineteen year olds to go out and get absolutely shit-faced and, in the process, generate a lot of tax revenue for the government coffers. It was a win-win situation. The stamp, or seal, overlapped the image of the card holder, so with a magic marker we emulated that piece of the seal that overlapped Gib's image. We then placed Gib's mall family portrait in the card and sealed the card back up using an iron. We did a better job of sealing the card than the Liquor Commission did.

This was the beginning of my life as an identity theft expert. I never did anything to profit personally from my actions, at least not in the early days. I just used my talent innocently to help under-aged friends get into bars. Interestingly enough, Gib went on to a long and lucrative career as a bar manager. He's never properly thanked me for everything that I did for him. Hopefully he'll steal a credit card and buy me a gift, or find me a kidney if I ever need one.
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What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Right? The same goes for Fredericton and Lagos.

Friday, October 23, 2009

October...Plenty Of Colour Out There



The images above were all photographed in October, most of them in the Pines Conservation Park, just across the road from where I live. October is a pretty month, even after the leaves have fallen. Are you enjoying the show?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is Mass Consumerism Our True Religion?


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When I was a small child my parents took me to church because it was the 'right thing to do'. I'm not sure who was 'advising' them. My misspent mornings on the pew didn't last for more than a few months before I was complaining that church was boring, which it most certainly was. The music was atrocious, far worse than even rap. The singing, mostly from the tone deaf elderly, was comical at times but not to the point that I ever craved more. The wooden pews were punishingly unpleasant and stale.

Church's only redeeming quality was that it was held on Sunday mornings. Had church been scheduled for Saturday morning, my one day a week to enjoy cartoons, then my parents would have had to have extricated me from the television room by gunpoint. I'm not joking. In the late 1960s, cartoons were my true religion. All the talk of god was just fantasy and pie in the sky dreaming. Cartoons were real.

Cartoons were legally sentenced to Saturday mornings in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Eventually the Flintstones and a few others managed to break into prime-time, the supper hour. By the late 1980s the Simpsons, a cartoon, no less, were dominating our evenings, and the Nielsen and Varty ratings. The Cartoon Network was born in 1992, offering cartoons 24/7. This made Saturday mornings less important, so Friday night drinking became my new religion.

What's your religion today, Ian?

It's hard to answer that question, but I fully believe that the new religion of western society is shopping. When I say 'fully believe' you must understand that I have a half smile/half grimace on my face. I have no doubt that Sunday shopping gives church a swift kick in the ass.

I've been thinking about shopping a lot in the past few weeks. My trip to New York City, Frenchy's and Value Village were just tune-ups for yesterday's adventure in shopping. Yesterday, I was in Costco, tagging along with a friend. It's pretty interesting to visit Costco when your shopping list has no writing on it.

Costco, to me, looks like the kind of place that attracts two types of shoppers:

1) those who know exactly what they want, and don't mind buying it in larger sizes.

2) those who troll the aisles looking to buy some unknown product that will make their lives happier.

The first group know that they want a hundred kilogram box of Cheerios. They know what aisle they'll find them in and they know that they can always find another shopper who will help them dead lift the box into their over sized cart. Then they move to the produce aisle and buy a bag containing forty heads of romaine lettuce.

What's for supper, mom? Caesar salad again! That's thirteen nights in a row, can't we have something different for a change?

How about some Cheerios?

Because I entered the hallowed halls of Costco without a mission, I acted like like second group of shoppers. I went looking for things to buy, things I didn't really need. I was most fascinated by the stacks of clothing. I briefly considered buying a pair of lined pants for $24. I don't need lined pants, but because they were there, I considered buying them in all three shades. Of course they didn't have my size. Not many tall people shop at Costco, I noticed, while towering above the trolls.

Costco is the kind of place where you can enter the building looking to buy a thirty-pack of AA Duracell batteries, because they're a good deal at $19.99, and leave with a $400 Foosball table. Hey! It was on sale!! So was the 90 inch plasmatronic LCD liquid toaster television. I bought two, one for the living room, one for the bedroom.

I'd love to know more about the psychology of shopping and merchandising. It looks to me like Costco has it all figured out, because the shopping carts are filled to the brim. Their customers seems genuinely excited by the deals that they're getting. They pay $50 to $100 per year for the privilege. Costco seems to warm their hearts, and everything below their belts too. Those lined pants were being briskly snapped up.

I wonder if lined pants make sitting on church pews more comfortable? I suppose I'll never know, for at least two reasons.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'd Like Eight Feet Of Eavesdropping Please



Wendy: Do you have any shallots (shall oughts)?

Spudweena: You mean shallots (shall its)?

Wendy: Yes.

Spudweena: Well, we have onions.

Wendy: I'm looking for shallots (now pronouncing them 'shall its' to appease Spudweena). They're in the onion family but have a different flavour.

Spudweena: Oh, I don't know about those.

This conversation took place yesterday between my wife and a veggie vendor, who I've given the name of Spudweena to protect her identity. I loved the interaction between my wife and Spudweena. My wife asked for a specific product and the salestuber immediately corrects my wife's pronunciation, then goes on to admit her ignorance to their availability.

You say 'poe tay toe', I say 'poe tah toe'. You say 'Toe may toe', I say 'toe mah toe'. You say 'eavestroughing', I say 'eavesdropping'.

Huh? I'll explain in a moment, but first, back to more veggie tales...

From www.dictionary.com: shal⋅lot  [shal-uht, shuh-lot]. It could have gone either way, so correcting the customer, when they're correct to begin with, is not a good way to begin a business relationship. It's like wiping your nose with your hand then holding it out for a handshake.

Can't we just hug?

The troubles ended there for my shallotless wife, but not for the next customer....

A woman and her husband entered the vegetable stand. I'll call the husband 'Pete', and his wife 'Repeat'. The wife did the talking:

Repeat: "We're looking for our three fifty-pound bags of Yukon Gold potatoes. You called and said they were ready."

Patient veggie vendor: "The Green Mountains are in ma'am."

Things went south from here.

Repeat: "We're looking for our three fifty-pound bags of Yukon Gold potatoes. You called and said they were ready."

Patient veggie vendor: "I'm sorry ma'am, there must have been a mistake. We do have Green Mountain potatoes though."

Repeat: "No, we're looking for our three fifty-pound bags of Yukon Gold potatoes. You called and said they were ready."

The woman repeated herself approximately six more times, never really changing her message or acknowledging that there were no ___ing Yukon Gold potatoes. The salesperson tried to explain what spuds he had in stock, but Repeat wasn't leaving without a hundred and fifty pounds of Yukon Gold. I suspect, twenty-one hours later, that she's still there.

"We're looking for our three fifty-pound bags of Yukon Gold potatoes. You called and said they were ready."

It's also possible that I'll read about her in today's issue of the Daily Gleaner, Fredericton's answer tot he Globe and Mail:

Local Woman Mauled At Vegetable Stand
Fredericton City Police are asking for the help of citizens in apprehending the perpetrator of an alleged attack on a woman early this morning in the Maugerville area. The accused is described as being eighteen feet tall and wearing a top hat. He is considered armed, eyed, and dangerous, though it appears that his genitals have fallen off. He was last seen heading for Florenceville where he his son, Julienne, went missing a number of years ago.

God bless the Daily Gleaner, without which we would all live our lives in utter ignorance. That's not to say that the Gleaner isn't without its faults. Occasionally the Gleaner dices and fries the English language (and a salts it too!). My favourite example of this happened about ten years ago. I was skimming through the For Sale: General section of the classified ads where the following ad appeared:

For sale: 8, 10 and 12 foot sections of eavesdropping. Call 455-XXXX.

I should never read the Gleaner. I should never listen to other people's conversations (eavesdropping). I need to get my mind out of the gutter (eavestroughing). I need to find some shallots, or was that shallots?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reindeer Riding In Mongolia


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Some people take the road. Some people take the road less traveled. Some people don't take the road at all, opting for the back country. Some people ride reindeer.
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I'm pretty sure that Jason Yung, he of nomadic Mongolian tendencies, works hard and plays hard. Play, it would appear, is travel. Apart from Mongolia, I noticed that he's also been to Chile, France, Tanzania, China, Tibet, Nepal, Hawaii, Arizona, Bhutan, India, Morocco, Cuba and Shubenacadie. You might think that he was a businessman, travel writer or professional photographer.
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You'd be wrong.
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I did discover what he does for a living, but I'm not going to tell you, even though it's very, very interesting. We're going to focus on his Mongolian adventures again today because, fortunately, Jason Yung has given all of us access to his images. While pouring over his images yesterday, on his Facbook page, I noticed many generous comments. One of his friends posted the following comment:
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"WOW! You are such an amazing photographer, Jason. It's like a National Geographic spread."
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I couldn't agree more. His images took me to Mongolia. I met the people. I explored the lines in their weathered and beautiful faces. I felt the ravages of wind, sun and time on my own. I saw the elemental joy in their eyes and wondered what they've seen that I haven't. I was Genghis Khan, briefly, admiring my empire of nothing, yet everything.
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Great photography, and storytelling, is a form of escapism. I feel like I've been to Mongolia, though my passport says otherwise. I think that we all have two passports: the little blue one in our coat pockets and the infinite one that gets stamped in our minds.
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If you're ready to visit Mongolia and all that it entails, like riding reindeer and living under streaming blue skies, then let's go. Today we are very lucky.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yak Yogourt, Anyone?




I spent part of my morning in Mongolia; it was an unplanned adventure. I opened my e-mail just after sunrise and found that my Facebook request, to someone I had never met, had been accepted.

Facebook be praised.

I'm not a fan of Facebook, in general, because it seems frivolous most of the time. You know, honestly, I don't really care to know that you're dicing carrots or that you're wearing two left socks. Really......

I. Do. Not. Care.

Every once in a moon that's blue someone posts something that is truly remarkable, and that's why I became a friend with someone I've never met. His name is Jason Yung and, so far as I can tell, he lives in Halifax. I don't know what he does for a living. I don't know how old he is. All I know is that we have a friend in common and that friend told me, in no uncertain terms, that "YOU MUST SEE THESE PHOTOS!" So I sent a friend request to Jason Yung and he generously opened the door to Mongolia for me.

When North Americans think of travel, very few think of anywhere other than Florida. I can't blame them as the Canadian winters do funny things to our brains.

Hey, let's visit a place that's flat and boring...but warm and cheap.

Thanks but no thanks. Florida serves its purpose, but it's no Mongolia. It may warm your skin but I doubt it warms your soul. I doubt that it expands your horizons all that much. It's not all that different from Canada. Hey look! Another McDonald's and it's right next to a Burger King! Next stop, Disney World!!

I've never been to Asia, and I don't know if I'll ever make it there. Yesterday, I might have dreamed like a tourist; Japan, China, Thailand. Today, I dream of Mongolia. Thank you, Jason Yung, whoever you are. You've done something very kind for someone you don't know.

I feel unusually fine today, and visiting Mongolia this morning was a great way to start my day. I'm sorry that I can't share Jason Yung's images with you, but I'm going to see if I can find a way to make them accessible to you. They tell a story not just about Mongolia but about Earth and her people. This is our planet, and Mongolia is a big part of it. Shouldn't we get to know it?

I challenge you to leave my blog now and find out one fact, on your own, about Mongolia. Take just one step. I won't make it easy by providing a link. If you want to learn, then you'll have to dig for yourself and I'm not prepared to pass out shovels, at least not yet.

I knew nothing about Mongolia yesterday. Today, I am hitch-hiking on the road to enlightenment. Jason Yung gave me a lift to Mongolia. Incredible!

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."
Lao Tzu

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The End (Of Boating Season) Is Near


Summertime, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high.

If only.

Last time I checked, summer was gone daddy gone. This morning I fleeced myself out of my warm New Zealand slippers and into my deck shoes. My sockless toes shivered as we left the warmth of the house and greeted the 'sun not yet up' morn. My camera nuzzled close for warmth. Two steps onto the cedar boardwalk that takes me to the lake and "holy shit!", I nearly go down. Frost on cedar. Slope. Think luge. Better yet, think skeleton. Mine. I caught myself at the last moment before taking a one way ride back to the camera store for parts and servicing. It could have been messy.

Note to self: wear crampons from now until May. Also, get the winter tires put on and look out long underwear.

On mornings like this, summer's warm winds are a fleeting memory. Fall has risen to its full height and is now waning. The leaves have rightfully left. Can you blame them? I walk past the frost coated, formerly awesome blossoms of my garden. They used to sing to me in the morning, now they're dead heads blown by my passing stride.

Alas, the seasons are a changing and I'm helpless to stop them. I dream of marching to a different beat, yet I strum along with cold fingers, year after year. Such is the fate of this man, torn from the tropical womb of the imagination and born into life's igloo.

I am summer.

What if I lived in the tropics? Would I still be summer? Can one really appreciate summer without winter? Can you really appreciate pleasure without pain? Can there be heaven without Canadian Idol?

Of course not. Supposedly there's two months and three days until winter. That's pretty funny. For me there are only two seasons: summer and winter. I know what season it is right now because I don't see any high cotton growin'.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vivian's Gift To The World



Every once in a while I come across something so compelling that it makes me question my entire vision of self. The last time this happened was when I realized that my life was not complete without an Easy-Bake oven, something that's yet to be rectified. In the latest go round it's the photography of Vivian Maier (1926-2009) that's got me all worked up.

Vivian Maier was a photographer in Chicago whose primary body of work documented the 'real' Chicago, at the street level. Vivian was a street photographer. I am anything but, and that's one of the reasons that I appreciate Vivian's gift. I'd like my images to be more like hers or, at the very least, I'd like to grow a sixth eye that could see the art of the street and its people.

I'm inspired by her photographs and her story, both of which you can see here. Be sure to read the short story that appears under her picture. It's one of those tales that's both sad and uplifting. The person who 'discovered' Vivian's photographs never had the opportunity to thank her for what she did for his life. Think about this for a moment.

Are there people in your life who inspire you? Do they know this?

How would they feel if they received a note from you, out of the blue, telling them how much you admired their work? It's easy not to do this because it's always easier to do nothing than something. Like Vivian, they will die and the opportunity will be lost.

So, what are you waiting for?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Associating Colour With Place

Do you remember the television show Miami Vice? If I asked you to tell me the colour of that show, would you say black and white? Not likely. It's more likely that you'd start talking about sub-tropical pastels. Aquamarine waters, peach coloured Art Deco walls, pink shells and pale lime Armani t-shirts. Miami Vice was a colourful show, thanks to the South Beach vibe and Sonny Crockett's togs.

I've been to South Beach, Miami, before. In fact, I welcomed the new millennium there. I spent four weeks of my life sharing the boardwalk with the beautiful plastic dolls of Ocean Drive. I'm not a big fan of cities because I see them in middling shades of black and white (concrete jungles without the chlorophyll). South Beach was a rare exception...it was like a garden in bloom and I was a florist with harvesting eyes.

I have a few favourite places in the world to travel. Maine and New Zealand are two stand outs, though les Iles de la Madeleine are nipping at their heels. New York City, on the other hand, doesn't make the top ten, or the top one thousand for that matter.

I decided to create collages from my trips to Maine, New Zealand, Iles de la Madeleine and New York City. I'm not looking for artistry in the collages, they were created in a 'quick and dirty' manner in Picasa. I'm looking for a feeling in these collages....let's see if we find any:

This first one is from coastal Maine...my favourite place in the world (so far). Take note of the overall colours. You'll see plenty of earthy greens and blues. The pattern is quite uniform, very much like a tastefully crafted quilt.
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The next one is of New Zealand. The blues are a little darker and the greens are replaced by the golden browns of New Zealand's plentiful hillocks. Overall, it's a bright and warm bluish-gold landscape that inspires my tastes.
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Les Iles de la Madeleine appear to be silver water, simmering sunrises and smouldering sunsets, which is often the case. The vibe is definitely coastal and cooler.
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My last collage is of New York City. It looks nothing like my beloved Maine or New Zealand. You could draw comparisons between New York City's palette and that of the Magdalen Islands, though New York City is noticeably darker with a lot more black creeping into the images. New York City, at ground level, is punctuated by deep, dark shadows. Until you seek refuge from the tall buildings, you'll never escape the shadows. This is why Central Park was such an oasis for me. The one green image from the collage is from a Central Park pond.
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I'd love to plan a little experiment for New York City, just to see how it would affect those who chose to live or visit the city. I'd like to give at least ninety percent of the buildings a South Beach makeover. I'd like to paint the towering skyscrapers in pastel hues. I wonder how that might change the mood of the people. I think that it would help.
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Have you ever been to Jelly Bean Row in St.John's, Newfoundland? Could you walk past without smiling or, at the very least, feeling just a little bit happier? Have you ever found a place on Earth where the colours permeate your emotions?
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What are the colours of the place where you live? Do you even notice? Do you care?
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I do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When Smiles Go South


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They might have been the happiest couple in the world for all I know, but they sure didn't look it. Perhaps their world was turned upside down, or perhaps it should have been.

I was sitting in the Halifax International Airport about two weeks ago now, waiting for the Air Canada groomers to clean the vomit out of the plane that I was about to board. My flight was delayed so to put in some time productively I did what I always do...I people watched. It gives me great joy to watch the behaviour/body language of others. I was fixating on the couple you see pictured above, particularly their smiles, or lack thereof.

It was approximately two or three years ago that I, one day, stopped and looked at myself in the mirror. I seriously looked at myself in the mirror. I noticed that the corners of my resting mouth took a distinct downward turn, thus giving the impression that I wasn't happy. I was, of course, happy, but with a mouth that looked like a depressed croissant I couldn't help but wonder if it made me look unapproachable to others. I spent a few weeks studying the faces of friends and strangers to see who looked happy and who didn't, then I smiled and got on with the rest of my life.

Fast forward to October 2009. I saw the couple in the airport and my interest in smiles was reborn. It's funny how things work out because there's been a flurry of activity in the smile department this week. I was listening to a Joel Plaskett song just the other day, while in Joel's hometown of Dartmouth. The lyrics which caught my attention were as follows:

Hey good looking, why the frown? You always look better when it's upside down.

When I returned to New Brunswick yesterday there was an e-mail message waiting for me. Someone wanted me to alter a family photograph that had been taken at Harvey's Studios in Fredericton. In the image you see a happy family...almost. One member of the family was clearly upset about something and she was absolutely glaring at the photographer. She ruined the otherwise tasteful portrait. In Photoshop I lowered her eyebrows and turned up the corners of her mouth, which were hanging down to the floor. It was amazing to see the difference that an upturned frown can make. Joel Plaskett, you were right!

Be sure to smile at someone today. Send a strong message. If you simply can't smile, then I'd suggest taking gymnastic lessons. You're going to have to learn the handstand, for the good of humankind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stewiacke: More Than Just Mastodons



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Most couples are quite sad when they drop their children off at university. Wendy and I just left our precious little Julian (6'1", 220 lbs) at Dalhousie University after a few short days at home for Thanksgiving. In dropping him off I was basically retracing my steps from a month earlier, when I took junior to Dal for the first time. I was in my usual Spock-like state of logical emotionlessness...all systems normal. For Wendy, this was her first crack at leaving the large baby, so it wasn't easy for her.
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(Real) Men are from Vulcan, Women are from Venus.
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Umbilical integrity is something with which most mothers struggle. Wendy is no different from all those other teary eyed moms who can't believe that their child no longer wants, or needs, to be tucked in at night. It's tough. For seventeen years Wendy has stretched that fragile cord all over the world, and it's always held like a pair of Power Mama Spanx. It's always brought her home to her son. Stretch, tug, twist....that cord couldn't be broken. Until now. He's in university, and we're home alone. It's going to be different.
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Metaphorically speaking, the cord never gets completely severed. Mothers and sons will always have a special attachment. Don't get me wrong, I haven't forgotten the place of the father. I love my son as much as any man could. Men and women are both sentimental. , it's just that men seem more 'senti' and women seem more 'mental'.
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I cut the cord a month earlier, so I was in a mood to enjoy my new found freedom. I could do whatever I wanted without embarrassing anyone for a change. First thing on my list was to stick my head up the ass of a concrete mastodon in Stewiacke. Stewiacke is famous for five things:
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1) being the home to a roadside replica of a mastodon that was found somewhere else (Milford)
2) having a Taco Bell where it doesn't belong (not that they really belong anywhere)
3) being latitudinally halfway between the equator and the north pole (cool, but who cares?)
4) giving birth to a railway tampering teen who derailed a Via passenger train
5) absolutely nothing, really.
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Second thing, on my list of 'must do since I'm now an irresponsible, under-employed, stay-at-home dad without a kid at home' activities, was to check out the Frenchy's in Truro. I wasn't searching for clothes or a Halloween costume, though if I was searching for the latter, I easily hit the mother lode. I could have easily Charlie Chaplined, Kurt Cobained, or Conrad Bained my wardrobe for under fifteen bucks.
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Frenchy's creeps me out...it felt like I was rifling through the cadaverous hand-me-downs of a long since mothballed uncle. I know the clothes are legitimate and not grave robbed, but I'm just being honest with how I felt. I don't ever want to go back to a Frenchy's, though I will because I love train wrecks, be they fashion or otherwise (hence my intrigue with Stewiacke's dirty past).
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Wendy and I knew someone who was once involved in another Via Rail train wreck. The wreck happened between Montreal and Toronto. After the impact, and ensuing derailment, she had to step over bloody passengers and twisted metal, then clamber out through a smashed glass window to reach safety. This woman worked in the world of Canadian opera and had survived the dangers of working with bleating mezzos, so the train wreck was a bit of a holiday.
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Wendy and I once took the train from Toronto back to the Maritimes. This happened in December of 1987. I don't remember much from the trip, except that some guy called Wayne got drunk and unruly. The train made an unplanned stop in some Quebec hamlet that was too small to have a name, though Petit Stewiac Sans Cloche Taco would have been fitting. Wayne was removed from his seat with only a token amount of kicking and screaming. I've often wondered how Wayne managed to get home, if at all. Perhaps he ended up 'dating' the Sheriff's daughter.
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C'mon Chantal, untie me. It's been twenty-two years. I want to visit my family back in Stewiacke. I hear there's a Taco Bell there now!
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Ce n'est pas possible.
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They've got poutine there.
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Mon dieu. Allons-y.
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And so Wayne was freed and reunited with his family in Nova Scotia. His mother, now eighty-two years old, had never given up hope that her son would one day return. The umbilical cord can never be broken. Never.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's A Tagine?




When I was a kid, I ate the occasional frozen dinner and I'm not too proud to admit that I liked it! I used to get happily wound up by the thought of eating my gourmet two course meal from a thin aluminum tray, the type you might have given Fido when you couldn't find his regular dish. The infamous Swanson dinner of the 1970s almost always consisted of two courses: the main event, and desert. There was often a third course, as a result of the meal...antibiotics.

I refer to the entree as the main event because it was a lot like an ultimate fighting (UFC) match. I'd spend the first two rounds sizing up the opponent, often fried chicken, before the real battle began. By round three the dancing was done and I was actively jabbing the drumstick/carcass with my fork and by round four I was ready to go for the knockout bite. If only it was that easy. That dirty old bird was one tough customer, even in death. I can imagine it gave the abattoir owner quite a run for his money before becoming fodder for the Hungry Man/Chubby Boy. We usually went a full five rounds before the judges raised the victor's hand, or drumstick, in the air. It was only my expertise at grappling that gave me the win. Ultimately the chicken won, because what he did to my stomach and colon, after the fact, gave him the last laugh.

Did you notice above that I said that the meal was a two course affair: the main event and desert? How many of you noticed that I spelled 'dessert' incorrectly? In fact, I didn't. If it was truly dessert, then I would have called it so. It was desert: devoid of life, or flavour, dry, gritty, inhospitable to most life forms, including taste buds. It was almost always some variety of horrid apple pudding, still I savoured every bite because I was a stupid child.

I'm sure that my mom enjoyed a night off from the shackles of the oven. Strictly speaking she was still shackled to the oven, it's just that she didn't have to prepare the meal in advance. The kind people at Swanson made the gourmet delights for her, and for me. I can't remember if my parents at the tv dinners or whether it was just me who was gastronomically spoiled, in a literal sense.

I hardly ate a tv dinner in the 1980s. I discovered that Salisbury steak, a Swanson's mainstay, wasn't actually a steak. In fact, it was a lot like a hamburger with extra hoof and snout added. I became jaded in the 80s. The 1990s saw a lot of new competitors enter the frozen dinner ring and I was lured back into the frozen food aisle. President's Choice, a Loblaw's brand, took the iced supper to a whole new level. They introduced us to Thai, Indian, Greek, Chinese and Moroccan food.

Did you say Moroccan?

Yup, Moroccan. For a very short period of time, the PC people at PC offered us something from a predominantly Islamic country. One day, two years ago, I was browsing the frozen food entrees when I saw something with the word 'Moroccan' written on it. I read the description of the contents, then nearly drowned in the ensuing torrent of drool. It sounded wonderful. I took it home and immediately fell in love with Moroccan cooking. My passion for Moroccan cooking has yet to abate.

Have you ever tried Moroccan cooking? If you want to give it a try, then I'd suggest investing in the book pictured above. You can order it at Chapters. Bon appetit!




Monday, October 12, 2009

Strawberry and Blueberry Fields Forever


Twice while walking through New York City's Central Park last week I stumbled upon the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon. It sits just inside the park, within strumming distance of the Dakota, the building outside of which John Lennon was shot. John and Yoko shared an apartment inside the Dakota until Mark David Chapman put an end to all talk of a Beatles reunion.
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A lot of interesting people have lived in the Dakota over the years. Imagine being neighbours with Sting, Bono and football legend John Madden. How cool would that be? Not everyone who wants to live in the Dakota gets to. Both Gene Simmons and Billy Joel were rejected. I can understand why Gene was given the kiss off, but how could they turn down Billy Joel? He doesn't seem like a trouble maker. Perhaps it was the fact that Billy Joel's song My Life became the theme song for the television show Bosom Buddies that did him in. I would have voted him out of the Dakota for that too.
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It's hard to believe that it's been almost twenty-nine years since John Lennon died. The Strawberry Fields memorial sees hundreds of people flocking there every day, in hope that Lennon , in resurrection, might appear for one last concert. He does.
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Strawberry Fields is a memorial park within a park. It's leafy and lush, amply shouldered with shady trees and shrubs. In the middle of this verdant oasis is a simple tribute to Lennon. A large circle, no doubt symbolic of the global whole, gives refuge to inlaid tiles in the shape of a stylized starburst. It reminds me of a compass...something that would help one to find his or her way through life. In the centre of the starburst is a smaller circle, inside of which is a single word...Imagine.
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Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
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Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
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You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
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Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
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You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
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When you walk through Strawberry Fields, the words to Lennon's best known song, Imagine, are everywhere. They reverberate quietly. Even in a competitive city like New York where everything screams 'look at me, listen to me', Lennon's lyrics blanket the droning with a firm softness. Everyone should be encouraged to walk past this memorial before they're allowed to buy a gun, build a fence, or live for anytime other than today.
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There was a lone rose sitting atop the word 'imagine' on my first visit to Strawberry Fields. Two days later, when I passed by, the rose was gone. In its place was a loose flowery garland made up of gerbera and gladioli . They danced around 'imagine'. I'm not sure what people think when they visit Strawberry Fields. I think about the tragedy of Lennon's shortened life, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. More than anything I'm reminded about the power of music and words, to bring strangers together. To heal.
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Though I photographed New York City's Strawberry Fields, I've chosen an image today from the blueberry fields of Stewarton, New Brunswick. If you've never visited Strawberry Fields, then you'll just have to imagine what it looks like. You'll have to imagine how it would make you feel. Take my word, it's not there to deify John. It's there to let you dream.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Man, I Feel Like A Woman






I wanted to look at the pictures that my brother just took of me, but he insisted that we needed a soundtrack before we could properly enjoy them. Ten seconds later, after a few deft keystrokes on his iMac, we were listening to Shania Twain belting out 'Man, I Feel Like A Woman'. One image after another, of my transformation, faded in and out on the iMac's radiant screen. I was torn between watching my own colourful face, and the faces of my two nieces who took such delight in tarting me up.

The fact that I said tarting me up is no accident. I've always had an opinion on make-up, at least when it comes to women wearing it. I'm not a huge fan of it, at least not when it's applied by a trowel or a make-up shotgun. Perhaps I should just mind my own business because, as a man, it is none of my business. Who am I to suggest the appropriate lengths any woman should go to make herself feel more attractive?

I suppose a woman should do whatever she wants because that's what I do, but just as I might offer interpretive commentary while looking at the paintings in a gallery, I just can't help but speak my mind when I see make-up gone wrong. I like make-up when used as a decorative accent, say a little blush to cheer up the cheeks. I think the blush being applied to my cheeks, in the images above, made me seem just a little more happy, though it's unlikely I'll find eternal happiness at the Mac cosmetic counter. Sometimes a walk outdoors on a frosty autumn morning will deliver the same results.
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Women in Vermont, if I could make a sweeping generalization, don't seem to wear much make-up. I guess they just go for walks on frosty autumn mornings, or stick their heads out of their Volvos while driving through the verdantly green countryside. I can't say that I noticed a lot of women wearing scads of make-up in New York City during my recent visit, at least no more than I had applied to my own face. The blush certainly worked for me. The lipstick was not too over-the-top, effectively drawing the eye to my lips and away from my Jaggeresque cheek folds. Did you notice Aerosmith's Steven Tyler next to Mick? At least I think it was Steven Tyler, or was it daughter Liv? The gender bending lipstick threw me off.
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The lead singer of the band Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, chooses to wear mascara, and it accentuates his eyes rather well, in the manner popularized by the Olsen twins. Take a good look at the Olsen twins. One of them has lipstick on that's too Liz Taylor for my tastes. The other one has wall flower lips that fly under the fashion radar. I'd suggest something in between.
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Wait a minute Ian, are you suggesting that more make-up is needed for the twin on the right?
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Indeed, I am.
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What makes you qualified to offer advice on cosmetics?
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Well, now that I've worn make-up I feel like I have something to offer to the woman on the street.
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Is this what they mean when they say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?
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Textbook.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

In Praise Of Big Girl



Walks in to the room
Feels like a big balloon
I said, 'Hey girls you are beautiful'

Diet coke and a pizza please
Diet coke I'm on my knees
Screaming 'Big girl you are beautiful'.

If you're scratching the hair on your head, or in my 'Homer Simpson meets Charlie Brown' case, both hairs, you're saying 'huh'...what have I just read? Don't feel badly, my blog opening is obscure by design. Let me explain...

Have you ever had a song looping through your head and you fear that it's going to stick for life? Of course you have. I'm only into my 47th hour of a song right now. It was playing when I went to sleep at 1:08 a.m. this morning and it was still on at 5:37 a.m. when I got up.

Want to hear the troubling, yet fun tune that's Gazooing my brain at the moment? Warning: it's outrageous and potentially H1N1 contagious. Here it is, if you dare, with apologies for the few seconds of commercials that you're youtubered into watching before the video starts... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89GB7z_Ogt0

If you're anything like me (sorry about the ill fitting jeans and thinning hair), then you probably didn't catch all of the lyrics, or if you did, you botched half of them. I'm still trying to clarify the lyrics to The Flintstones theme song, and they're not that complex. Anyway, if you want to see the rest of the lyrics to Big Girl (You Are Beautiful), which I started at the top of this blog post, you can access them here. It's not poetry, like some songs I know, but they make me smile nevertheless.

I first heard this song a year or two ago but it didn't stick. Why it reached the tipping point two days ago is eluding me, but it's there and 'it ain't goin' away'. I even tried singing The Smurfs theme song, which historically has rid me of all unwanted melodies, but even it's not working. The funny thing about The Smurf remedy is that The Smurf song is infinitely more annoying than any song I've ever heard before, with a few exceptions (i.e. the entire Celine Dion catalogue, the worst of which made it onto Rolling Stone magazine's The Twenty Most Annoying Songs list).

If The Smurf song is no longer on the tip of your tongue, or perhaps never was and you want a nibble, click here and listen only to the first 11 seconds. The remaining 54 seconds are not worthy of your lovely lobes.

Ian, why were you listening to Big Girl in the first place?

Well, I was at Clam Harbour, Nova Scotia preparing to windsurf. My musically eclectic comrade suggested a little tunage to psyche us up for the big waves before we went out. This is not an uncommon practice. I remember one day in les Iles De La Madeleine, before a particularly epic session a few years ago, I was cranking The Offspring to get me all worked up into a lather. I hit the water with this pumping punk song coursing through my veins. It helped.

Not quite the case at Clam Harbour. Rather than pumping punk I was listening a collection of alternative pop/rock which, for one song, strayed into the realm of neo-psychedelia. Big Girl (You Are Beautiful), by Mika, was the last song we played before walking our gear down the long boardwalk to the beach. With an offshore wind there wasn't much blowing for the first two hundred feet of ocean. This is the area where the waves break, also known as the impact zone. You need wind to be (successful)...in this place I was standing in waist deep water with four foot waves breaking over my head, occasionally tearing my board and rig away from my hands. You'd expect that I'd have had words like 'oh shit' rolling off my tongue. Instead I had the following words...

You take your girl
And multiply her by four
Now a whole lot of woman
Needs a whole lot more.

Some things in life don't add up, like why some songs stick more than others. My apologies if Mika's song is now rattling in your head. I don't know what else to say, other than la la lalalala, sing a happy song, la la lalalalal Smurf the whole day long.