On Canadian Hypocrisy – A Limerick

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Recently Canadian Cabinet Minister, Jody Wilson-Reybold, tried to respect the Rule of Law as Attorney-General of Canada in deciding to let the courts continue to prosecute Québec Company SNC Lavelin for paying bribes to land lucrative  Libyan contracts between 2001 and 2011. Shortly after that the Minister was demoted from her tricky dual role of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to Minister of Veterans Affairs by PM Justin Trudeau.

Flashback to the recent, embarrassing and ongoing fiasco in an extradition case requested by our frenetic regime to the south:

Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland repeated over and over and over that Canada is a Rule of Law country after arresting Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou on December 1, 2018 and holding her for extradition to the USA, where she may be prosecuted. President Trump made remarks that imply that the USA is using this threat of prosecution as a bargaining chip to get a better trade deal with China – all of this at the expense of Canada’s relationship with China and putting at serious risk three Canadians being prosecuted by the Chinese for various crimes. One of these, Robert Schellenberg has been convicted and, since the jailing of Ms Wanzhou, sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

 

Uncle Brother – A Novel

Barbara Lalla’s 2014 novel, Uncle Brother, published by The University of the West Indies Press, is a wise, culturally faithful and very funny tribute to heroism and loving personal sacrifice in family life. This third novel focuses on the subtle and not-so-subtle cultural and historical richness of the people of the Caribbean Island of Trinidad. Her first two novels, Cascade and Arch of Fire, focused on her native Jamaica, where she grew up, studied, and fell in love with a gifted young Trinidadian also at UWI in Mona. Her subsequent decades in Trinidad, where she lives, teaches and writes, have made possible this faithful and brilliant tribute that begins in the 19th century and ends in 2010, a decade into the twenty-first.

The book’s central character of “Nathan” found inspiration in a real person from a bustling rural town in southern Trinidad. Nathan is the fictional main “author” of his family’s story, put together from a treasure trove of notes and documents in English, including one in French and one in Hindi he has written or collected and saved through eight decades. Members of his family and friends also contribute their memories to the story. Both sides of the precocious Nathan’s family came from India in the 19th century when they were brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers after slavery from Africa had been “abolished.” The complexity of feelings produced by this continental uprooting is just one aspect of the history of Trinidad’s people that Lalla presents with great sensitivity and insight.

The scope of the story has enabled talented, perceptive, and poetically memorable reflections on both intensely personal and broader 21st century political issues. It describes the struggles of the folk on a small, multi-cultural, “multi-continental” island to endure a final century of colonial government and later govern themselves during over half a century of self-government after independence from Britain on 1 August, 1962.

One unforgettable example: Nathan’s 12-year-old sister, Judith, who often helped her mother in her “vegetable” garden, asks him about the descriptions of beautiful gardens by great English authors he has given her to read: “How could karaile and pumpkin and all the other things that grew in a garden like Ma’s be pretty?” Nathan soon after took her on a journey to Port of Spain to see the Royal Botanical Gardens. Judith reflects: “It made him still more godlike in my eyes, for although he had not made the garden he had placed me in it however briefly and it in me forever… ”

The story includes playful and often hilarious dialogue in Trinidad “English,” a combination of English and Creole French with the languages of other cultures, like Spanish, Hindi and Amerindian that have interacted over the centuries since Columbus arrived in 1498. A massive 12,000-entry testimony to the seductive pull of Trini-talk is Dictionary of the English Creole of Trinidad and Tobago by Canadian editor Lise Winer who has devoted many years to collecting and referencing a language that makes English itself richer.

This inspiring, captivating story is also a thriller that includes some violence and, toward the end, some vitally important suspense. It is a wonderful, mature tour-de-force by a sophisticated story-teller that combines many laugh-out-loud moments with a complex worldview and a deep understanding of the human psyche.

 

 

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.

Last Year’s Burrs – This Year’s Buds

This morning’s light gave us good birding. We welcomed the male R-B Grosbeak for the first time this year. The Cape Mays were around and a female Yellow Warbler in addition to the plentiful Myrtles. Spotted the male Northern Oriole singing to us high in a maple on our way back for breakfast. A nice start to Mother’s Day with my spotter!

This is the peak of the Spring migration. We hope for hummingbirds at our feeder as they move north and maybe, just maybe,  a pair will stay all summer….

Our CBC: A Weapon of Mass Delusion

To The National,
If I needed proof that The National are pure and simple toeing the anti-Assad, anti-Russia line – I certainly got it last night. The White Helmets Acting Company put on their slick multi-million dollar show once more, getting prime coverage in the phoney (since 2013) “WMD-use” assault on Assad.
The CBC presented or ignored other issues in this segment designed to minimize awareness of the deadly, horrific interference committed during the continued, uninvited American presence in Syria.  We all know the consistent history of US-led criminal wars upon many other worldwide regime-change binge targets.
But to my point: I am now convinced in the insincerity  of virtually all CBC TV hosts. There have to be some doubters among you. Most of you are much too smart not to realize what is going on. So isn’t it about time for some resistance from at least some of you who are caving in or playing along with the relentless distraction and dumbing down (yes, you too, Carole MacNeil) of TV viewers to the point that they swallow or obsequiously read/hear what you and all of the international “quality” media are dishing out via the long-familiar, must be tired and jaded, faces on RussiaGate, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq etc.
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This sort of stuff is so bad it has probably been responsible for breaking up some homes, where one partner retches loudly while the other simply keeps swallowing.
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I remember as a pre-teen in the early 1950’s thinking that Russians were sub-human. Working in Britain in the early 1970’s I learned how much contempt the Brits once had for refugees from Eastern Europe. Do we want to go back to that? Seriously?
Perhaps your justification for weaponizing the news comes from a “patriotic” feeling that couch potatoes should be primed with propaganda as preparation for WWIII.
As a grandparent in these times, I can only shudder.

A Special Book

 

I have just finished The Stones Speak by the prolific, much-loved, 20th Century writer, Thórbergur Thórdarson, born in 1888, who grew up on a remote family farm named Hali in southeastern Iceland, very near to Hvannadalshnúkur, the highest peak in Iceland at 2119 metres.

I bought the book at the Þórbergssetur museum, where our tour group stopped on July 18th, two days into our 10 day bus tour. The centre was built in 2006 in Hali, (near Reynivellir in Southeast Iceland) and is dedicated to this unique man. He was largely self-educated, being too poor to attend high school or university.

The Stones Speak, translated in 2012 by Professor Julian Melton d’Arcy of the U. of Iceland, is Thórdarson’s only complete book that has been translated into English. Written when he was in his 60’s, this is an inspired, witty and sometimes caustic collection of his earliest memories – those of a precocious, hypersensitive visionary who lived very close to nature.

The book is, in my opinion, a must-read for folks who plan to visit Iceland and really want to work at understanding its recent (20th C.) history and its people. The introduction and notes by d’Arcy deserve to be read both before and after reading the book. They even contain the simplest, best guide to Icelandic pronunciation that I have found.

I went to Iceland because it was my wife’s choice and must confess that, uncharacteristically, my only research before the trip was to google the heck out of each place we were visiting on our Ring Road tour and look for things worth escaping from the pre-arranged options to see. And because we were arriving in Reykjavík (KEF) at 6 AM on the red-eye from Toronto on July 16th I was looking keenly for the most interesting places we might explore that day on our own. Our Grand Hotel was only a half-hour walk or a # 15 city bus from the centre of town. These were, for this dyed-in-the-wool self-directed traveler, the vital facts, since we were not due to meet our tour director at the hotel until 5:30 P.M.

Combined with the superb tour itself, reading The Stones Speak has given me wonderful, intensely personal insight/hindsight into the unique Icelandic people. It was, for me, not an easy read. It does not grab you like The DaVinci Code. I put it down and picked it up several times, as I have done with Proust, until realizing that, by making margin notes and studying maps and breaking down words in what is for the superbly gifted Daniel Tammet this oh-so-special language, I fell in love with Iceland and humanity in general, starting with the folks in 1890’s Suðursveit. 

If you have already visited Iceland, take the time to study The Stones Speak. You will, through it, reconnect with human nature and, perhaps, yourself.

P.S. If you have not gone yet, check out Guide To Iceland, a great website community to which my post travel research luckily led me. They justifiably claim to be an “unrivalled source of information.”

 

Waiting For Winter? Not!

Sumac Confusion

Above is evidence of a serious debate between branches of Sumac near here as to whether fall has fallen. The majority Green Party seems to think not.

Sweet Peas
Sweet Peas still here October 8

Thought I’d reaped the last of the sweet peas on Sept 28 for a tiny bouquet to greet Anita when she came back from a family funeral in Trinidad, but there were more. The garden has never stayed so beautiful for so long.

I thought that overseeding parts of the lawns on September 19 was tempting fate, but there’s been no frost and above seasonal temperatures and the seedlings have done well.

My enthusiasm shown in this post is, in view of the extreme, human-caused suffering experienced by so many in the Caribbean, North America, and by all forms of life worldwide that depend on our Planet’s finely-tuned biosphere, a “tad” selfish. It’s just that, from time to time, we all need to focus on happy things like this and show appreciation for the love and hard work that people close to us have put into making things so much more beautiful.

The only winter I have really come to fear is a nuclear winter.

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That said, here are the photos taken on October 8 that made the cut:

 

 

 

 

Two 2017 First Sightings

 

The above two photos, taken today at our feeder with the Sony’s 70–210 E-mount lens fully zoomed, show that the migration continues. This species has graced our sunflower seed feeder since 2011.

When I returned in the Toyota shuttle from delivering the car for its annual maintenance my spotter excitedly announced her sightings of the above and a black-throated blue warbler, who was in the two pink rose bushes that climb, and crown, our ancient arbor at the bottom of the deck stairs. I was too late for that warbler.

A few other recent photos:

Update May 2: Could not find the night-heron the next day and haven’t looked since. 

Dishwashers, Goldfish and Death

Years and years ago my grandson and daughter lived with us. We bought our grandson a goldfish when he was almost four. He named it Skipper. One day, after several months, he came to me and said “Grandpa, Skipper stopped.” He was new to the concept of death. Observing him taught us so many new ways of looking at life. He turned twenty in October and is doing well in his sophomore  year working toward a Bachelor of Animation. He is now showing his professors new ways of looking at their worlds and their art.

Now for a more mundane topic: About six weeks ago our dishwasher, like Skipper, “stopped.” It was only six. No lights at all. No noise. No water. Nada. Continue reading “Dishwashers, Goldfish and Death”