February 18, 2007
So here’s something peculiar, there has been an explosion in the number of place to get your nails attended to. I cannot fathom where all these extra nails are coming from. If there was a population explosion … those nails would not be needing such extreme attention, just a pair of 75 cent scratch mitts.
Along with the now familiar sight of big pits dug everywhere awaiting the pouring of foundations for half million dollar condominiums (often where rental buildings used to stand –I’ve counted three flattened in a few block radius from here) it’s becoming apparent that folks will only be able to drink coffee, get their nails done and have the choice of fourteen sofa shops. They will be unlikely to be able to buy a loaf of bread or pint of milk because of the way the city is changing. Jane Jacobs warned of the dangers of this.
It’s all part of the turbine that’s decimating the place in advance of the 2010 olympics. I love the luge and the bobsleigh like any other, but the socio-economic inequality and further poverty that’s a byproduct of this turbine is frightening: there’s no mention of plans for social housing, the cost of living is hopping up, the ordinary citizens are dodging swinging cranes and closed pavements while some property developer rubs his tummy. Sport should be for and of the people. They raised a flag to celebrate three years til the event. (To a chorus of nearby protests) The big sweeping brush is getting ready. To dispose of “eyesores”, to push people further to the margins, to create new cycles of poverty. The sport gets lost in all the click of powerpoint presentations, the bidding for marketing contracts, the building of audacious facilities. Yet the actual sport has far more incommon with surviving the adversity of the alleys in the city, gathering up empties. Nobody ever won the bobsleigh clicking on a computer.
February 4, 2007
Glory be, glory be, L’alphabet, L’alphabet.
10.20am, during one of our peut-etre more seismically challenged days, myself and the Arabic language face a trial separation as I declare to bloke beside me I think I’ve reached the end of the road. We are being dunked into the pan of the alphabet and let’s just say there’s more carrots in there than I bargained for. Each letter has 4 different ways of being written depending if it’s at the beginning of a word, medial or final. Many of them look remarkable similar to begin with, so having felt a little faint at the sight of them all as singles, it’s unfathomable that there are now three different other versions that do not look a great deal like the isolated version. The purpose of the isolated version is still a mystery. Perhaps they are only used on tie pins or for decor purposes?
Every-time the teacher asks me a question she erupts in an affectionate set of giggles in anticipation of my answer because my attempts sounds a little more yodelling than the others. I do have the best arm waving though. But by the time I conquer ’this traffic bollard is bothering me and can I have a shampoo and set’ arm waving may be out of vogue.
Generally I feel I’ve been raised in an inferior language when I contemplate the complexity of this script and all it’s variations.
I’m certainly overwhelmed but afterwards sunk in the library in literary ventures I find myself imagining writing that script and then begin to copy and practise the first six letters and find it surprisingly comforting like knitting or swimming must be if you’re good at it. I cannot understand why I am so compatible with it until it all makes sense. It’s written right to left, so it’s got to be in the left brain, which is where all my pigeons roost.
January 28, 2007
Here’s a quote from a piece John Berger wrote in Le Monde diplomatique back in 2003. The whole piece Written in the night: the pain of living in the present world can be read here:
It is a little more than a century ago that Dvorak composed his Symphony From the New World. He wrote it whilst directing a conservatory of music in New York, and the writing of it inspired him to compose, 18 months later, still in New York, his sublime Cello Concerto. In the symphony the horizons and rolling hills of his native Bohemia become the promises of the New World. Not grandiloquent but loud and continuing, for they correspond to the longings of those without power, of those who are wrongly called simple, of those the US Constitution addressed in 1787.
I know of no other work of art which expresses so directly and yet so toughly (Dvorak was the son of a peasant and his father dreamt of his becoming a butcher) the beliefs which inspired generation after generation of migrants who became US citizens.
For Dvorak the force of these beliefs was inseparable from a kind of tenderness, a respect for life such as can be found intimately among the governed (as distinct from governors) everywhere. And it was in this spirit that the symphony was publicly received when it was first performed at Carnegie Hall (16 December 1893).
Dvorak was asked what he thought about the future of American music and he recommended that US composers listen to the music of the Indians and blacks. The Symphony From the New World expressed a hopefulness without frontiers which, paradoxically, is welcoming because centred on an idea of home. A utopian paradox.
Today the power of the same country which inspired such hopes has fallen into the hands of a coterie of fanatical (wanting to limit everything except the power of capital), ignorant (recognising only the reality of their own fire-power), hypo critical (two measures for all ethical judgments, one for us and another for them) and ruthless B52 plotters.
Here’s the sublime cello concerto that he refers to, coincidentally the one I felt encapsulated the narrative of human despair a few posts ago.
There’s nothing like consensus, what? I shall restrain myself from a string of compliments about Mr Berger’s work and simply say reading his books is like the experience of jumping between rocks as a child. Each one you land on another small victory, a reminder of all the possibilities that exist, of voices missing from literature. What will we do if he dies? Learn to jump backwards, or add a half twist between stones, or hope for new outcrops.
January 19, 2007
For a while I’ve been musing on which piece of classical music perfectly replicates/interprets the narrative of human despair. Now obviously that’s some indication of the cheery types of things I think about, but every time I hear certain pieces of music I hear the elements of the novel. Or perhaps more accurately I hear the elements that are missing from my own novel. It may seem absurd to try reduce human despair to one single narrative, but heck I have to start somewhere, so I’m settling on one for now.
My present contender is the Dvorak – Cello Concerto in B minor Op. 104 – II. Adagio ma non troppo played by Jacqueline du pre in the recording I have.
In an effort to explore this duality I find between music and narrative I got this barmy idea to try to read musical scores, which, given that my knowledge of the treble clef is v limited and all early experiences with violin were severely detrimental, was a little optimistic.
The other day at the library negotiating the difficulty of a man hogging the shelfs of the section I was trying to reach I was excited to see the Bach cello suites. Ha, I think, I’ll start there because I can throw on Pablo Casals CD and try to follow him as a first step.
Naturally forgot about it til the small Puffin chanced upon it.. what’s this? Starts singing out the numbers above the notes. So I tell him my plan about reading it with music on. Sling on the CD, dart to sofa. It’s suite 1 playing, and suite one open on the knees. Think I am fathoming it, point out to Puffin looks it going up, he rightly asserts it’s going down on the CD. Perplexed hit track one again. Repeat dart to sofa. Five further attempts. Dismal failure. Declare to Puffin reading music is impossible task. Turn off Pablo. Return to sofa defeated. Close musical score. Catch sight of words: double bass on inside cover. It’s bloody double bass music we’re looking at.
We turn to something we really can understand Pippi Longstocking in relief.
It was an excellent exercise in knocking on the head another barmy notion from the increasing list of barmy notions. Actually I’d like to know which part of the brain is responsible for barmy notions because that might explain why a I, who cannot follow an omlette recipe, thought my chances might be higher trying to read a cello concerto.
January 10, 2007
The small Puffin had the momentous event today of losing his first tooth. He’s an extremely mature Puffin not to have lost a tooth ’til now, as most small Puffins his age have long had the smile like they could give but a mere gummy nip to an average apple.
Due to this delay have been able to avert dealing with the major nausea that overcomes me at the sight of a tooth being wiggled. Akin to the Sealink Ferry in high storms. To think I once considered a career as an autopsy attendant should give an accurate indication of how well we know our capabilities. That a wiggle should be so discomforting is perhaps sweetly ironic or perhaps explained by having had both my jaws broken in my twenties and four operations on the pesky crunchers.
The actual event happened only because he yanked it out of his mouth, while reading Pippi Longstocking. I suggested he yank it because the room was spinning everytime I saw it protrude from his lower jaw by the poke of his tongue. When he shrieked it’s out, it’s out. I shrieked oh Jesus I am going to get sick. Then got practical and declared open your mouth. Saw blood and shrieked Good Jesus it’s bleeding, they’re not supposed to bleed, in 1975 teeth didn’t bleed, something has gone wrong, you shouldn’t have yanked it. Had post-operative moment of inspiration. Cotton wool wadges. We don’t have any. Stuff mouth with flannel. All the time Puffin calmly declaring it’s fine offering scientific comparision to 47 other Puffins, who have lost teeth in his classroom company.
Now I am going to have to google number of teeth in mouth to figure out how many more times this must be endured. I tried to suggest to Puffin that hopefully only front sets of teeth fall out, since I never recall the big square fellas exiting my mouth, maybe that’s why I had several pulled as an adult. Puffin insists nonsense they’re all coming out.
He’s also determined tooth fairy won’t get her mitts on it. Firstly dissing it as improbable before suggesting I lock it someplace safe.
I recall being quite stoic when he had heart surgery as a young baby or perhaps because of heart surgery I am no longer stoic. Just like because of jaw surgery cannot tolerate sight of wiggly tooth. Still adequate distraction from the 100kph wind storm outside the window. I feel like we are auditioning for Global Warming on this coast for last 2 months and we keep getting a recall.
December 15, 2006
We had the arses well and truly blown off ourselves last night in these parts. I have spent enough of my time on Sealink ferries and in the West of Ireland — where the wind appears to reserve its most committed effort at bluster — this new variety is astonishing. Especially in a place usually habituee to a mild climate.
It’s somewhat difficult to cull an interest in the weather, when it’s whipping the arse of you. I became fixated on the weather as a security guard, even though I was only outside patrolling car parks, and spent much of my time inside, getting cosy with the 12 mini security screens, rereading Coetzee novels, in a jacket 19 times too big for me, obsessively texting the weather forecast.
Once in a Cagney and Lacey moment and to make it seem like I was a useful entity I wrote a report (we had to keep hourly reports on what was happening, there was largely nothing happening, hence the need for the odd fictional slant on nothingness) of noticing two people out the back digging a hole and burying something. I realised afterwards, that the area I had described was in fact a vast expanse of concrete and a man or woman would have needed pneumatic arms to dig anything out there. I think the person may have been tying a shoelace. Poor quality cameras can rapidly up the drama factor of almost any movement. An ambling dog blurred can look like a bison. Even someone pausing to light a ciggarette can begin to look as if they are conspiring to knock down a building.
A real highlight of that job was when someone politely asked me if I collected bottles, offering a bagful of empties. Another time someone gave me a plastic bag full of small shampoo bottles and soap, but nothing topped the harrassed hockey fan who appeared in front of me one night wondering if I could fix his toilet which had inconveniently gone on the blink in the middle of a match. I suppose by logical deduction that made me a well-dressed binner, who needed to pay more attention to washing, but had the makings of a great plumber.
Curiously rarely did anyone ask about the books I was reading.
It was an interesting vista watching people entering and exiting their lives, because the time waiting for the elevator was like a pause in the grand scale of what they were doing and always they remarked on the weather, so perhaps that’s where the responsibility to be up to date and add to the weather discussion lay. Otherwise where could the 17 second conversation go?
November 30, 2006
O’Yawn and alas, this is the time of year when writers are surveyed on their favourite ”books of the year” or some such spiel. The remarkable thing is how many of them liked the same book, so the reader hoping to pick up hot, angsty, insightful titles could leave the paragraphs with the view the only man who ever wrote a book was called Edmund.
There should be a ban therefore on repetition. A phonecall should be placed with the message: sorry find another that’s ones been nabbed.
The truth is it’s more likely some manual on the operation of a fifteenth century plough that truly sent them into orbit but because no one can find it at the library or on Amazon .. maybe they don’t want to fess up.
The library and I maintain a fruitful, but bewildering relationship with each other. They sometimes send me these brisk emails “Sorry we will not be buying this book” or I shake my head and ask if they are certain there’s no one else in this city likely to be interested in this particular book about Hispanic males age 24 and the relationship they enjoyed with their mother on a particular city block in the Lower East Side in 1961.
Still they delighted us this week by acquiring for the small Puffin Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons in French (Les Hirondelles?) from the National library in Quebec. Such is its preciousness and age, we can only read it inside the library. I feel like we are getting a peek at the bones of a famous nun. The only remaining dilemma is my woeful French.
November 28, 2006
Up the road, in the dark, walking in the very deep snow, I notice a man and his pregnant partner in the middle of the road with a boxy camera down in the snow. They’re taking a picture of the hospital they say because it looked nice and creepy. A discussion about the usual terrible state of arts funding blather ensued as another 5cm of snow fluttered down.
Up the hill, inspired by these two Urban, reproductive types I decide to take a picture of an orange road bollard. In the lense though I can’t see any sign of the bollard, so snap any old thing.
At the intersection of two roads I see a man, with woman and a dog, and a broom. He is putting the broom up into the tree and brushing it. He is definately brushing the tree. I know because I stand five minutes in the chilly conditions to be absolutely certain.
Two young fellas approach with the broom business directly in their line of vision. One has a set of googles like a snorkle on, so I remark on its functionality. The other one, seemingly jittery, says: did you see that flash before?” and anxiously scans the pavements for its source.
Too embarrassed to admit that was me taking a pic of a road bollard that I couldn’t actually find when it came down to it. I suggest it’s someone taking a picture.
I found it mighty curious that a man sweeping a tree didn’t create any consternation, yet an average flash sent him snorkelling into detective mode.
The man with his broom up the tree worries me. I have that furry foreign moment of I’ll never come to terms with this city until on a radio program today I hear someone describe tree branches heavy with snow, cracking and landing on the power lines, and rewarding the population with instant darkness on top of the troubling conditions.
The man brushing the tree is actually a visionary. 24 hours and a warm oven to cook his chicken in ahead of his time. It was the broom more than the camera that mattered.
November 24, 2006
Following on from Quebec’s excellent example of possibly declaring itself a nation within Canada (good work lads..) I am declaring my own new nation here in BC called simply Puffin. (not to be confused with Muffins. Our nation will be short but not edible. Do not attempt to nibble us on sight). This nation will be led by the following imposing looking madames:
I can assure you that under the governance of these bonnes vaches you won’t be receiving the phone call survey I did the other night, on behalf of the local govt, where I was asked whether I thought someone should be denied a job on account of being a smoker. Er.. it’s not too far in the distant past when our Premier got sniffly on the news apologizing for being tanked on Martinis while hurtling along the road in Hawaii. Now I wouldn’t be a huge fan of the holy smokes, but the persecution of tea drinkers is obviously next on the list.
We Puffinois will be speaking French because we like it, but there will be an end to those police escort situations for Foreign dignitaries or govt types from other provinces. Basically we’ll provide a fold up bike at the airport for ye and a small comb to rearrange yourself if you insist on arrival.
Puffin nation will provide all Puffinois with cooked food. It will be a more upscale version of a soup kitchen since we know that deep down it’s food that causes all the stress. Puffin nation recognizes some of us aren’t cut out for cooking and this misery should end.
The pressing question with all this talk of the new nation of Quebec is will this signal an end to the floppy 1980′s sweatshirt look over there?
We’ll be debating it in our first caucus.
In the meantime I propose we all form another nation without Stephen Harper (Prime Minister) in it.
November 23, 2006
A woman, with shiny quality curls, shoved a packet of soft tofu in front of me yesterday excitedly, because she heard me tell my young puffin there was no possibility this side of Mercury I would be buying the gunky looking peach flavoured GMO soy bean pudding he insisted upon.
Just add cocoa powder, says she of the good curls, it’s as good as chocolate pudding, my kids never notice than difference.
She added a few more supporting facts about neighbouring packets of soft tofu and thoughts of chocolate pudding had begun to be genuinely appealing.
I begin with four spoons of cocoa and a hand blender. It’s very dusty. I am unconvinced. It doesn’t look like chocolate pudding. A small lick .. such a shocking affront to my tongue that I add three large spoons of brown sugar. Then a more anxious pitch took over and I threw three big spoons of raspberry jam. Worried that raspberry jam was very silly thing to put in I hail the puffin to taste it. He look enthusiastic and swiftly revolted.
-it’s like batter wails the Puffin
-by no stretch of bleedin’ beep beep imagination does this resemble chocolate pudding, blasts the mammy craytur.
Feck it, piled another four large spoons of real hot chocolate into it, in an gesture of drowning the vileness out of it.
Reenter the puffin
But the problem is that the presence of tofu just couldn’t be obliterated, given the blasted thing was made of tofu.
Still disgruntled I suggest we fling it the freezer and eat it only in the event of an earthquake.
Moments later I disclose I feel very sick.
Puffin says he feels sick.
Well not really. I just feel we should go to the bakery and get a lemon cupcake to get rid of the taste.
We agree to brave an incredible rainstorm to walk five blocks to the shop having further agreed no lemon cupcakes, sensible duck crackers and less sensible choice for mother craytur.
At the bakery puffin shouts excitedly “look there’s a mouse!” Woman behind counter admits a “rodent” (she won’t commit to which variety) walked in the back door and has gone missing in action.
Mother craytur sincerely and irrevocably (forever and ever amen) terrified of rodents tries to climb into shopping trolley and generally wails like a goose, while bakery person asks Puffin to locate the mouse.
Puffin obliges. Mother waves hands and wails. Mouse or rodent cannot be located. Bakery person tells folks not to be alarmed. Mother craytur is very alarmed. We pay for provisions at neighbouring cash till and Puffin points out mouse is by front door: are we going out that way. Certainly not. Puffin points out umbrella is left in tall tub by front door. I ask Puffin to go get. Puffin goes to get it, but bends down and declares mouse presence again. I declare sighting excitedly to staff who ignore me and continuing cutting buns. Puffin returns sans umbrella. Declares he only likes mice in the distance and up close they are a bit scary wants me to go with over there with him. I say let’s abandon umbrella. Then note that storm is now coming down at such a rate pneumonia is on the menu. I beg Puffin to get umbrella. Puffin refuses. I offer Puffin money. Puffin refuses. I beg cashier to get umbrella. Cashier obliges. I heap silent blessings on cashier to the tune of God be good to her, may her house be rained on with gold coins. We exit distant door, far from mousie. At door and window where mousie was spotted I say to Puffin. OK where is he? We bend and peer under the trollies through the window while the rain runs into the back of our boots desperate to get a look at him, now there’s a thick pain of glass between us all. Puffin admits he thinks mousie tail is as long as his hand and mousie’s feet went up by his ears when he walked like a crocodile.
In future must speak a foreign language when discussing puddings with the Puffin. Must scan trollies for furry presence before entering magasin. Practice attachment parenting with umbrella at all times. Trust implicitly Puffin opinion on pudding matters rather than gals with shiny hair. Good chocolate pudding does not produce shiny hair.
Post script note: on subsequent visit phobic mama requested status update on Mr Mousie and it was acknowledged Mousie was actually a small rat and er… the cessation of blood through his veins is suspected, but has not yet been established.
November 19, 2006
For days we have been on a city-wide boil water advisory after a significant storm last Wednesday, which put trees down and turned off the lights. Naturally everyone largely overreacted and got terribly excited about acquiring the last litre bottle of boiled water on the shop shelves. Curiously unnecessary since they only told us to turn on the kettle. I observed several advantages to the boil water advisory: First a distinct lack of that dreadful slurping noise one is accustomed to hearing in your left ear at the cinema. Yep no soda drinks sold in the cinema. Gracias. The unmentionable multinational coffee chain have had some service interruptions! Maybe now they’ll think twice and pay those Ethiopian coffee farmers the 23 cents per kilo they deserve rather than the 8 cents that is further impoverishing them.
See this film for more on the farmers: http://blackgoldmovie.com/
And finally an increase in charming notices pinned up in public places such as one yesterday at a deli that read “we are washing all our fruit and vegetables with bottled water.” It’s quite the irony that the water supply would not have been interrupted if we weren’t tinkering so violently with the entire weather system with all these green house gases. When you think about it if people weren’t driving these ridiculous gas guzzler cars, they’d be able to turn on the tap with confidence. So there’s this interesting warm arse = no clean water conundrum. There’s no telling them, as my mother would say.
November 16, 2006
So there I was admiring the way ice rinks can gather and maintain a smudge from every decade without having to bid any of it goodbye. The reason I was able to deduce such an astonishing conclusion was I was freezing my arse off in the bleachers, while my six-year-old puffin was zipping and twisting between grown, middle, and diddy men, women, children, pushchairs (indeed you can take your baby skating in the stroller, literally ice rinks adapt to every decade’s needs), wheelchairs. Somewhere out there was his father. Yours truly has only ever tried it twice, to little success and such intense discomfort in the foot region that I’m not tempted to repeat it. It’s perishing up there in the stands, with an electric heat strip hanging down in three spots, with no real heat ever reaching the top of your head. I was struck by how ice rinks refuse to cover up their age, so the hokey looking polar bear complete with woolly hat and ice hockey stick painted on the wall probably arrived in the 1970′s say. Then there’s the bunting flags which openly declare which season the various teams obtained them and finally the unapologetic soundtrack of Boney M bouncing the foot of the Grand-dad beside me, with mp3 player in his ears (Boney M overruled whatever was going on in the ears), and thermos at the ready, while his grandson skates alone below.
So out I meander to try warm the bloodflow at the desk and the woman explains she learnt to skate in this rink at age three and attended the preschool in the same building and oh, they’re ripping it down to build a fancy new one because of the impending Olympics. Drat and damnation I had been so uplifted at the prospect of revisiting the 1970′s, 80′s every Sunday and concluded the only other place which records the decades so proudly and incidentally in its walls is the outdoor swimming pool, which they’ve been threatening to destroy for two years. I wonder if the Boney M tapes will go into the same mush, when the bulldozers plough through the poor polar bear.
November 10, 2006
In a week of noting how celebrity divorces can now seemingly usurp elections, it’s time for this blog’s first o’yawn moment.
Lust and literature is a heady mixture, and the women writers of the 20th century who married poets and novelists often came unstuck in both life and art.
Clearly it makes far more sense to make your hay romantically in the strict marital sense with someone who actually has a job with paycheck, or cheap airline tickets, or discount on groceries, or expertise in laying pipes. The sensible thing would be to then procure the affections on the side of your literary love-a-duck, ensuring you are sufficiently absent when they are moaning about their latest tome and removing their toenails procrastinating etc. Turn up just as they have that revved, fresh, got a few good hours work done today, would you like a boiled egg glow.
When selecting partners of any extraction bottom line: make absolute sure they can cook a good egg. A good egg can cure the most irksome traits and inconveniences.
Possibly the best partner for a writer is actually the leg of a table.
November 6, 2006
Just caught a glimpse of this on the paper:
Changes to BBC Radio 3′s schedule that will come into force early next year were revealed yesterday, amid rumours that the station is planning to reduce its output of live music.
Radio 3′s controller, Roger Wright, insisted that he was not planning to significantly increase the number of shows that rely on excerpts from concerts rather than the complete programme. “That’s rubbish,” he said. “We’re doing full concerts. We are not going to do excerpts, we’re going to do concerts.” The rumours, he said “come from a complete misunderstanding of what we do, leave alone what we are going to do”.
I haven’t the foggiest notion whether they are understood or otherwise but it reminded me of the wonderful Beethoven experience they did some time back where we could download these less well known symphonies.
That put me onto Radio Three and some of its delights. The only trouble is the archive’s a bit dodgy, especially with the night? arts programme. You can get all excited about some interview last week, only to discover there’s no possible way you can hear it again.
I’m woefully uneducated about classical music, unless an abstract fondness for the cello counts, but it and Irish language broadcasting are the two things I can listen to when scribbling. I suspect only a vague grasp on what’s happening in both cases is the reason why.