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.
I now own the Thierry Laget paperback edition and will treasure it always.

Newfoundland, 2005 – Part One

Englee Causeway To Bar'dIsland
Englee – Causeway to Barr’d Island

On Sunday, July 17 at 1:45 AM we arrived at St. Johns, Newfoundland after a 3.5 hour Canjet flight from Toronto to begin an 11 day self-directed driving tour of that beauty-filled, sooo friendly province. On the plane we shared three seats with a charming young woman from Pouch (“Pooch”) Cove, not far from St. Johns. The time flew by. Got our bags and rented a metallic grey Chrysler Sebring at the airport and slept at the Airport Comfort Inn.

We used Maxxum Vacations to organize our route, a rental car and our accommodations. They do an excellent job of putting tours together.

islandmap5 copy
A map of our tour

Wasting no time, after breakfast we headed eastward from the airport, driving around the south shore of Conception Bay, past Carbonear to a small place called Salmon Cove, where there was a community festival that sounded like fun. It was.

Near Salmon Cove we visited a place near Victoria that had some Newfoundland ponies, a uniquely beautiful, small, muscular animal ideally suited to The Rock that is now considered endangered. There are only a few hundred left mostly in Newfoundland and some in Ontario. I don’t know if the place where we saw them is still there. If you are interested, Google “Newfoundland ponies” or start here.

In Carbonear we visited the alleged grave of the Irish Princess, Sheila Nageira Pike, whose rather preposterous myth includes being captured by a pirate and rescued by yet another pirate. The museum in Harbour Grace was closed, but we still had to drive to our downtown hotel, the Delta St. Johns, and check in, then walk to catch a great dinner theatre at 7 P.M.

Monday, July 18: History, Old and Older… and Geography

Visited Signal Hill, drove south to the big dig of an early 17th C. community called Ferryland and visited the easternmost place in North America, Cape Spear, on the way back to St. John’s.

More to come…

Süleymaniye Mosque – Istanbul

Suleymaniye Mosque - Dome
Süleymaniye Mosque – Dome
October 16, 2011 was our last day in Istanbul.  On the evening of October 13 at the tour Welcome Meeting our Istanbul guide had casually announced that we were not going to the iconic Süleymaniye Mosque even though it was on our itinerary. No reason was offered when I asked “Why?”
Determined (I, at least) to see it, Anita and I set off early on the 16th to take bus or subway across the Golden Horn from Taksim Square near our hotel. Our ship, the Louis Cristal, was scheduled to depart that afternoon and sail overnight through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles Strait for the Greek island of Mykonos. We were to be picked up by bus at our hotel at 2 PM and taken to the Port.
This was the day of the 33rd Asia to Europe marathon – the only marathon spanning two continents. We expected limited services due to this important event, but not a total absence of any public transport or automobiles going near the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn. Confusion for about 40 minutes.  Mixed opinions from locals – perhaps because the route has had three different versions during the contest’s history. Anita decided to go back to the hotel. I decided to walk – in the rain – the third rainy day.
Asia-Europe Marathoners Head for the Galata Bridge
Asia-Europe Marathoners Head for the Galata Bridge
 I had chosen several things to see at or near the Mosque. The walk was about 4 km – an easy 50 minutes one way.  Four hours to get there, tour and return seemed plenty of time…

Continue reading “Süleymaniye Mosque – Istanbul”


Tannery workers stir the leather in the dye pots with their hands - and feet
Tannery workers stir the leather in the dye pots with their hands – and feet

We opted against Insight’s included tour of the Fes medina, opting to hire a personal guide for a full day. This gave us more time there and much freer movement. We decided this before leaving Canada. I found a superb young man, named Younes, through a very helpful woman on Lonely Planet’s forum, who visits Fes annually. I communicated with Younes initially by phone and then we worked together on what we wanted to see, arranging this by email.

I made it clear that we did not simply want to be brought around to places where we would be expected to spend so that Younes could get a commission. This must be clear from the start. When we got to Fes I phoned him from the hotel on his cell. We had connection problems so just quickly said, “We will meet you at 10:15 at the hotel as agreed by email,” and hung up.

As our group was about to board the bus for supper, Younes showed up and somehow found us. He went out of his way to assure us that he would come for us in the morning. Our up-tight Insight tour director flipped out when we told him our plans. He threatened to call the police until we explained how we had pre-arranged the whole thing.

Below are three photos taken at Al Karouine University founded in the ninth century, which claims to be the oldest continuing university in the world. While we walked, Younes talked of having guided Nicholas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Roberts during his time as a guide. He was very impressed with Julia Roberts, who had some very specific things she wanted to see. Apparently she is involved in charitable and educational projects to do with young people in Fes. Since he humbly admitted, even though a student in university, that he couldn’t read the 9th century calligraphy I’m inclined to believe him about the celebrities.

A colourful highlight was a major leather tannery in Fes, where we specifically asked Younes to take us. They gave us a sprig of mint to hold near our noses, but the smell wasn’t that bad. The leather goods were amazing, but, even after touching the wonderful softness of the vividly coloured jackets, handbags and other beautiful items, we somehow resisted. Right: We passed by a shop in the metal working area. This was a noisy highlight. There you go; if I include our delicious lunch, there’s something for all five senses in the medina.

Miscellany: An early photo of a square before entering the narrow streets with Younes, patiently waiting for me, on the right. A prayer niche in the restaurant where we lunched; it must have been a very luxurious home at one time. On the right a patient and colourful donkey.

Last Fes group: Left: Carpenters at a factory where wedding seats are made.
Centre: The sacred shrine of Fes’ patron saint, Moulay Idriss, who re-founded the city and ruled Morocco between 807 and 828. Moulay means saint. Idriss means Idriss. Non-Muslims cannot enter the shrine. As the young woman in this frame stolen from video exited with her mother and sisters I respectfully put my camcorder down. After they were out of sight I resumed my video, only to have her pop her smiling face into my camcorder’s view. We laughed and chatted with them outside the door in French. She went in and lit a candle for Anita. A magic moment that would have been missed if we had taken the free medina tour operated by Insight.
Right: This photo proves we had a good time. I should have asked someone to take a photo of the three of us. Silly me.
Next post, perhaps: Marrakech and the capital, Rabat.

As Geopolitical Luck Would Have It

Note 1: This blog is republished under a new title from my old site. It is from April, 2010 but bears repeating. The opinions remain mine and the authors’ truths are timeless.

Note 2: Here is a link to a January 9th, 2013 Guardian review of Jared Diamond’s latest book, The World Until Yesterday by none other than Wade Davis. It is quite enlightening. Wade Davis makes the important criticism that there is still a sense in Diamond’s eloquently humane, but anthropologically naive, work that the fundamental paradigm of the superiority of the European worldview is alive and well. Diamond  simply believes that the West can benefit from tweaking derived from insight contributed by an appreciation of the way in which indigenous cultures relate to the unity of all living things on the Earth. Davis, on the other hand, recognizes that the apparently primitive indigenous approaches to understanding and to life are equally valid ways of living and that European  peoples need to recognize this if we are to survive. Only a new appreciation of the complete validity and worth of indigenous worldviews will take us where we hope to go: alive into the next century.

OK. Back to the original post:

I don’t know exactly when I bought the paperback version of Jared Diamond’s great book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, published in 1997 or 1999 (those Copyright notes are confusing), but it was possibly as early as 2004. I soon got distracted (saw something shiny, maybe) and put it down, probably somewhere around page 100. I finally finished it yesterday, all the way to the end of the 2003 afterward – page 440, after several other shiny objects interfered. My friend, Bill, called me a while back and mentioned being impressed by it, which reminded me that I owned it. I was impressed with the fact that Bill seems to have plowed through it at what seems to me like Mach 2, but why should anything he does surprise me? He seems to be able to do so many things energetically (and well), often with brilliantly funny self-effacement. Anyway, after working my way to page 200, I became obsessively determined to finish it and must have raced through the second half in less than two months!

You might have gathered that it’s not an easy read. The Da Vinci Code it is not! But Diamond is one of three authors concerned with the people and other living things on this Planet that are worth taking out your highlighter (if your memory is as short as mine) and plowing through. Continue reading “As Geopolitical Luck Would Have It”