Defending a Masterpiece

I have noticed over the years a shrinking of the best classics in English and French on Brampton’s library shelves. This has concerned me because I have slowly come to appreciate some of the truly great books and authors in the history of literature.
The most inspiring source of my literary “dabbling” in the past two decades has been Eleanor Wachtel’s amazing literary interviews on CBC Radio in her Sunday afternoon program, Writers and Company. She is, I think, the best literary interviewer on the Planet.
What took me by surprise in May was the shrinking of of the library’s adult French section. This is because I was looking for Madame Bovary in French, as a result of Wachtel’s interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard, the brilliant Norwegian, who described Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as his “favourite book of all time.”
I wanted to borrow the original French version. (I thought I would respect the years Flaubert put in to meticulously completing, in 1857, his first and most famous novel that changed literature forever.)
The librarian could not find the adult French section. I located it by accident in June.
She did check on the computer and said Madame Bovary was not in any of the library branches of this city of over half a million people.
And I’m shocked that Wikipedia’s article on Brampton does not even contain the word, “French.”
I, an anglophone of French/English/Irish descent raised in Montreal, with no “axe” to grind, am saddened to see this, and to find that nowhere in any Brampton’s eight libraries did a version of this first modern novel ever written exist in French.
So I requested it in French and waited until May 23 when it was delivered from the library in Acton, Ontario, population 9500, now amalgamated into the Town of Halton Hills.
French is not my first language and I spent the first three weeks getting through Thierry Laget’s brilliant preface, while listing listing the many words I had to look up. Then I noticed that, having been borrowed from another district, it was not renewable. I brought the book back on its due date and was again helped wonderfully by the person who served me. She renewed it on her own initiative for a week.
The Brampton Library has agreed to add more true classics like this to their shelves.
You can purchase the book and support Toronto’s Librairie Mosaïque  here.
This unique, deep, and shining masterpiece should be widely available across Canada and the world.
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I now own the Thierry Laget paperback edition and will treasure it always.
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Learning to “Struggle It Out” in Jackson

Poor, black US citizens are among the world’s many suffering canaries in the coal mine of unfettered-Capitalism, that unsustainable pursuit, having finally disempowered all of us except for the “point0-0-whatever%” that threatens to take the 99.99whatever% down the road to starvation, widespread war and extinction.

Chris Hedges interviews a rare sort of leader, Kali Akuno, a co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, a recent movement of poor, black citizens in Mississippi’s capital, Jackson.

Amy Goodman’s interview on Democracy Now with Akuno on the topic: Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination, in December last year, is excellent as well, especially for its inclusion of an appraisal of ultra-right Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and President Donald Trump. Akuno here points out a new white supremacy initiative building in America.

Under attack by a new city gentrification initiative that will eventually drive them off the land on which they currently eke out their humble, desperate existence,  Cooperation Jackson is  a movement started by Chokwe Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson until his death on Feb. 25, 2014. Akuno was his Director of Special Projects and External Funding.

This movement is a fascinating phenomenon that uses many of the potentially planet-saving Décroissance concepts being tried in different places I described in my October 2014 post, La Movement Décroissance. The French word Décroissance, uniquely combines the concept of degrowth with that of stopping believing in the way the current money-based system works. In Cerbère in Southern France and the Barcelona area, small communities have been established that:

  • Eat locally – and mostly plants
  • Squat
  • Disobey strategically some of the System’s “precepts”
  • Borrow, barter and time-trade, reducing dependence on money

The key objectives of Akuno’s movement outlined in his interview with Chris Hedges are excitingly similar: Continue reading “Learning to “Struggle It Out” in Jackson”

Iceland

We visited Iceland for 10 days in July. Above are a few photos I selected to send to my granddaughter who is 3 going on 7 and intensely involved in our holiday. Did you see a volcano? A geyser? A waterfall? A glacier? Are there trolls there?

She asked her preschool teacher to show her where Iceland was on the globe. Think her mother put her up to that… My first encounter with a map happened at the front of a class of kids I didn’t know – 3rd grade in a new school… But that is to digress…

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Politics is pretty depressing these days. Envy that infectious child-like innocence.

French, and Global, Fascism

Fascism - Webster's 1960 Unabridged
The word fascism as Webster’s defined it in 1960

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I love going back to my 1960 giant, two-volume edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. I picked it up at an auction in 1972. We were mainly there to get inexpensive furnishings for our apartment in Toronto, having just moved here from Cheshire, U.K. Check out the hand-drawn illustration that shows fascism’s Latin root to mean bundle!

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Then:

Italy seemed to coin the term, fascism; it first appeared with the arrival of Mussolini’s fascisti on the world scene in 1919. A crazy fact: for Mussolini, fascism was a good word. Nazi Germany and Franco’s Falangists were later included in this list of despicable regimes. In 2017 we carelessly throw the word around at anyone we do not like.

Fascism’s Common features in 1960:

  1. One party dictatorship
  2. Forcible suppression of the opposition (unions, other groups)
  3. Private, centralized control of the means of production
  4. Nationalism
  5. Liberal use of wars
  6. Racism

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France Today:

By presenting the above list of six characteristics, Webster’s definition made “fascism” a very specific term.

I think that France’s Front National (FN), led by Marine Le Pen qualifies for only two of the above six: nationalism and, particularly hateful for someone like me, married to a black woman, racism.

The FN does not propose forcible suppression of, for example, trade unions. In fact, it seems to be in favour of the little citizen with, until recently, a fervent, detestable preference for little white citizens.

Not many governments on this planet today, including France, could claim national control/ownership of their own means of production.

And the FN seems to be inclined not to favour the liberal use of wars. Continue reading “French, and Global, Fascism”

Caring for the Soul of Syria

Windows of the Soul, Damascus

I can’t write about Damascus without feeling jasmine climbing upon my fingers…

I can’t utter its name without tasting the juice of apricot, pomegranate, mulberry, and quince…

Can’t remember it without sensing a thousand doves perched on the wall of my memory, and another one thousand flying…

I am haunted by Damascus even when I am not residing there…

Its ancestors are buried inside me, its neighborhoods intersect above my body…
Its cats love, marry, and leave their kittens with me…

Do not ask for my identity card, I am a hundred percent Damascene, like wheat, plums, and pomegranates. Like brocade, Aghbani and Damasco. Like copper pitchers, and the armoires decorated with mother of pearl; all of which are part of my history and the trousseau of my mother…

A tree of Arabian jasmine that my mother left on my window, its white moons grow every year…

by Nizar Qabbani

The magnificent, deeply touching poem, Windows of the Soul, Damascus, was written by the great Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998). The video in the above link is a reading in Arabic of the poem. The photography is truly uplifting.  It was published by a group of Syrian students on their website called Syrian Students for a better future studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

I heard part of this poem quoted by the inspiring Ghada Alatrash on the podcast, Saving Syria – Keeping War-torn Culture Alive by CBC Radio’s Ideas. This podcast was produced by Naheed Mustafa. I was hooked by the podcast’s introduction, featuring Maamoun Abdulkarim‘s heroic fight to save thousands of irreplaceable Palmyra treasures from Islamic State destroyers and moved to tears by the music, poetry and stories of tragedy and hope that followed, from contributors Ghada Alatrash, Alia Malek and the music of Aya Mhana.

Oh, how a special place like Syria, in so many present, ancient and artistic ways, shows the best we can be as a gifted, precarious, human “episode” of the history of Mother Earth – a true reason to keep hope alive.

Newfoundland 2005.7 “God Guard Thee, Newfoundland”

The Arches Park, n. of Rocky Harbour
Tuesday, July 26: Englee, Arches and back to Rocky Harbour

Englee is a beautiful little community about 2 1/2 hours south of St. Anthony on the east coast. The drive from Englee to Rocky Harbour is another 4 1/2 hours. St. Anthony to Rocky Harbour is 4 1/2 hours, so our Englee visit added about 2 1/2 hours of driving to our Tuesday. If you climb up the long steps on Barr’d Island, you’ll be treated to one of the most beautiful views in the world – i.e. it was worth the extra driving.

We then drove back to Rocky Harbour, stopping at Arches Provincial Park for some more beautiful scenery. Our last, since we were flying home from Deer Lake on Wednesday at 15:15. We visited the Cemetery and the Lighthouse in Rocky Harbour before we left for Deer Lake Airport, about 55 minutes from Rocky Harbour on NL 430 South. Returning the car at the airport was very smooth. Boy, did we get our money’s worth out of that car!

Wednesday, July 27: Home to the GTA

One more heartwarming story about Newfoundland. We checked our bags at the airport. Then security noticed my Swiss Army Knife on my person. I thought, “I’ll be sorry; I’ve had it for a long time.” But they offered me the chance to put it back in my suitcase, which meant retrieving it from the storage area.

Now, a real treat for reading down to the bottom. A Newfoundland language lesson!!! With Mark Critch, Candice Walsh and Travel Yourself.

I will return there. That’s a promise. Note: I kept my promise, returning there in 2014.

God guard thee, Newfoundland!

Newfoundland 2005.6 – Vikings and Low Growing Trees

On our way to L’Anse aux Meadows
 Monday, July 25: L’Anse Aux Meadows Viking Settlement and the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve

The L’Anse Aux Meadows Viking Settlement is more than 1000 years old. The original French name for the place, found on a French nautical chart from 1862, was L’Anse à la Médée (The Médée’s Cove). There may indeed have been a ship called La Médée, since it was not uncommon to use Greek mythology when naming them. See the above link for more about its franglais roots, and for more about the Settlement. It needs no further description. Here are some photos:

Busted!

I am inclined to cram a touring day really full of experiences. An ‘orrible vice, I know. I was attempting to turn a legal 45 minute drive from the Viking Settlement to the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve into an illegal 33 minute trip (wasn’t sure when the guided tour hours were) and was stopped for speeding on the way.

The officer: “Do you, perchance, know why you were stopped?”

Me: “Yes, Officer.”

Officer: “And are you aware that your speed was more than 20 kph faster than the speed limit?”

Me: “Er… no, Officer, Sir.”

Officer: “Are you from away?”

Me: “Yes.” Big trouble coming, I thought.

Officer: “Don’t let me catch you speeding again.”

He handed me a written warning instead of a ticket and let us go. Again, the delightful mercy and grace of these island people surprised and overwhelmed me.

Burnt Cape:

Burnt Cape is a hugely important botanical reserve. It contains rare plants that are not found anywhere else. Trees over a hundred years old grow out rather than up (less than a foot up!) because of the biting winds. We were taken on a superb interpretive tour. Our guide also told us of a time when she had a group out to see the rock formations near The Oven and a polar bear appeared below them that had swum from Labrador. The visitors had no clue how dangerous it was and were snapping photos.

Sound familiar? Like anyone we know?

She was preparing to abandon them, if necessary, and run for her own life but managed to persuade them to make a hasty, sensible retreat. Some photos: