Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Hitchhiker's Guide: A True Story

There we were, two kids from Ottawa, at Carlo’s restaurant in Blind River. I had been craving the Lake Huron specialty- fresh whitefish and chips – for several hours. I remembered having an amazing portion here back in 2004, so good I’ve never gone back to my straight vegan ways.

Flash forward to almost three years later to the day, and all I could talk about with my not-entirely sympathetic driving mate was the juicy whitefish. I have been known to be a bit obsessive, but admitedly, this quirk gave me something to talk about through the long, rocky trek (read: boring) between Sudbury and the Soo. Tara wasn’t convinced, she wasn’t much of a fish-eater/killer, but she was still game. So, we pulled up to Blind River with Neil Young serenading us about this sweet little northern Ontario town of his youth, coincidentally the same spot my Dad was born, and we stumbled upon Carlo’s, the only place in town serving the white, fleshy gold.

As we sat at our table discussing whether we should finish the episode of Grey’s Anatomy we had pulled out while stalled due to a forest fire about 100 kms back in Nairn Centre, I looked over to the table across the resto and noticed a well-worn guitar. Next to it was a large, weighed-down backpack, a hitchhiker's classic.

I looked up to the attractive blond boy, animatedly in conversation, and thought he might be good company.

“What do you think Tara, should we give him a ride?” I needed to run this idea by her first, but I was sure she’d jump at it. She liked to think of herself as a rebel.

“Sure, why not? Good karma, right?” I could tell by her wry smile that she had never ridden with a hitchhiker before.

“Ok, I’ll go ask him what he thinks.”

I ambled over to the table, and asked, confidently: “One of you guys looking for a ride?” I gestured to the backpack and guitar.

The blond boy looked up: “Yeah, where you headed?” He had a much softer voice than I had imagined.

“We’re going west, past Sault-Ste-Marie tonight.”

“Past Sault Ste-Marie,” I could see this pleased him, “that’s great! Sure, I’d love to join you, when are you headed out?”

"We'll leave soon, we're almost done dinner."

He smiled and nodded in agreement.

Back at my table, I delivered the good news to Tara. A few minutes later, blond boy came over with his stuff. He held out his hand to both of us: “Hi, I’m Coady. Glad to ride with you.” Tara and I looked at each other approvingly. “I’ll wait for you outside, it’s a beautiful night.”

It was on the second morning we spent with Coady that our friendship began to take form. We had just spent a cold night in Sandbar Lake Provincial Park outside of Ignace, Ontario, nearly 300 kms west of Thunder Bay. We ate dinner together, played some music with our guitars and my cowbell, and just hung out before bed, as we had the night before. But on this early morning, Coady shone in both of our eyes, solidifying his place as someone you never entirely forget.

There we were, driving through Ignace at some ridiculously early hour, slow-waking Tara half-asleep, me speeding through town, and Coady has the nerve to ask, in total seriousness: “What do you think about heaven?”

For the next 90 minutes, we engaged in a heated session of Philosophy in the Morning, featuring religious, social, political, ethical and moral dimensions. We all had our own unique take. Tara started out a bit more optimistic about the potential behind religious forms of moral suasion, while I chipped away at this argument by expressing a more general disregard for any form of authoritative and institutional moral regulation. This is where Coady had his opportunity to bring in questions of ethics, and for a much younger pup than both Tara and I, he expressed himself quite well. I was impressed. In fact, for a few shining moments in the middle of the endless northern Ontario bog, I was almost proud of this young intellectual prodigy. And so it went, Tara and I butting heads over the potential behind any and all forms of moral regulation, and Coady acting as a buffer between our at times hostile exchange.

I forget the exact moment when it happened, but at some point, for sure by the time we reached Dryden, Coady was no longer someone riding with us, but a friend in the truest sense of the word. I think I might even have allowed him to select a CD to play on our trip soundtrack, near sacrilege, since Tara and I have a firm agreement to select tracks only when we’re driving, a privilege we guard jealously. But, forget about sharing food, stories, and song, it was Philosophy in the Morning, a new tradition in my car, that solidified my affections for Coady.

A few short hours later we pulled into a dripping Winnipeg, where we had decided to part ways. Coady needed to get to BC, while we were bunkering down in real beds at Tara’s cousins’ place. We had lunch together in Wolseley, and afterwards I drove him down Portage Avenue to the edge of town. After a firm hug, he hopped out of the car into the pouring rain, fully waterproofed. A white minivan, license plates Manitoba, picked him up out of the downpour a short minute later. We both waved as he propped the guitar against the sidewall. I watched as the van sped away through the thick Prairie rain, wondering when it would let up.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is Satrapi's story of growing up under the Islamic Revolution in Iran, her escape to Vienna in her early teens, her return to Tehran after high school, and her eventual exile to France, where she currently resides. The strength of the book lies in her painstaking attention to detail surrounding the events leading up to the Revolution, and her subsequent commentary on the political and ideological tensions that arose in this environment.

Satrapi accomplishes this through a very smart and crisp black & white illustrative style that captures the harshness of the political climate. She also uses dialogue amongst her extended family members as an effective tool to introduce the reader to Persian history, an essential component of her rich narrative. She does so quite fluidly, since her family represents the very forces the Revolution eventually loathes. Her great-grandfather was the last emperor of Persia, overthrown by the original Shah in the 1950s. Her parents are committed Marxists with a sweeping knowledge of Persian history and world literatures, who continuously view the new Iranian regime with critical eyes. And her grandmother, perhaps the most striking character of all, continuously reminds Satrapi of her duty to her ancestors, one that includes a responsibility towards human justice and dignity.

Persepolis is most compelling because Satrapi refuses to paint an easy picture of the violence in Iran, or of human relationships more generally. She weaves a story that points to the roles conservative forces within Iran and Western influences eager to appease these anti-democratic actors for easy access to oil, played in the build-up to battles that claimed the lives of nearly one million people over a fifteen year period. Through it all, I was left questioning the democratic ideals of the West, since even in the face of a war-ravaged Tehran, a young Marjane prefered to move back amidst the destruction, rather than live in Vienna where her very presence as an outsider evokes disdain and mistrust from even her friends and allies.

It’s difficult to read this story and not be reminded instantly of Art Spiegelman’s classic graphic novel “Maus.” Satrapi herself has remarked on reviewers’ constant jump to Spiegelman’s work. The only link I’d like to make is in the deep emotions that both stories evoked in me. As I was reading Persepolis earlier today, driving straight through the vast prairie fields, and dipping and diving through the spectacularly green Saskatchewan and Manitoba valleys, I cried. Not so much for those she knew intimately and who were killed, such as her once-exiled uncle who returns from Moscow only to be picked up by the security forces to be executed; her childhood friend and neighbour who dies in an Iraqi bombardment; her elderly uncle who dies of a heart attack after a grenade explodes next to his house. Yes, these stories were sadly disturbing. But what actually moved me to put the book down and stare out at the comforting passing landscape between tears, were the moments when someone dared articulate another way of imagining the world amidst such terror. It wasn’t what I would call hope, a terribly abstract concept that I think is over-used in politically progressive circles, since it comes to mean anything and everything, and I would argue, silences important critiques of social movements.

No, Marjane’s mother, father, grandmother, her many friends, and Marjane herself, refused to accept the vision of the world being expressed and put into practice, despite the overwhelming weight of this form. In this way, hers is not a story about religious fundamentalists and terrorists somewhere else, as it is now so often framed in the West. On the contrary, her complex narrative suggests that we are all connected quite intimately. It’s easy to forget that there was a moment in time when it looked like the Iranian Revolution could possibly serve as a model for progressive movements worldwide. But that moment was quickly replaced by a descent into fundamentalist violence, not unlike what we’ve seen in a number of other international settings.

What Satrapi reminds us is that even in the face of such utter disappoint, and the very real violence that accompanies it, we must still imagine differently. We must never accept fundamentalisms of any kind, whether religious, ideological, political, or social. To do so, imagine different worlds, is a life-long project, as her parents, and especially grandmother, attest to throughout her narrative. And it can take any shape, as long as it involves struggle.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ottawa-Winnipeg overland

There I was, on a hazy Ottawa day, about to embark on a road trip I had covered many times before, this time with my good friend Tara. There’s something about the feeling I get when I’m about to leave for a roadtrip, the quickening of my heart beat, the surge of adrenaline, that is comparable to the lead up to sex. Of course, the acts are considerably different, but the bodily sensations are eerily similar. It's the anticipation.

But here I am now in Winnipeg, a rainy, damp, and cold Winnipeg, fully 26 degrees colder than when I left Ottawa. Ahh, Winterpeg, I think I’m in love. My infatuation could merely be due to the fact that I can get out of the car for more than 30 minutes, or it could be the lovely house I’m staying in, but who cares why really, this little patch of the Earth strikes me as nearly perfect right now. The leafy streets of Wolseley are dripping, and yet I can feel the Prairie sunshine on the horizon. I didn’t see any blowing wheat or canola, it’s a bit early for that, but the big sky welcomed us as we sped into the city earlier this afternoon. That moment when the boreal forest morphs into the prairie somewhere just east of Winnipeg is magical. In the blink of an eye, the forests open up and the fields pour forth, not quite as far as the eye can see, at least not in that spot, but far enough that I was left humbled.

But, what might you ask, of the trip between Ottawa & Winnipeg?

Lake Superior. There’s very little else one can say after over 20 hours of driving through long stretches of marshland and bogs, except for those two magnificent words. Anyone who has been on the stretches of road between Sault-Ste-Marie & Wawa, and then again from Terrace Bay to Thunder Bay, will get it instinctively.

The shores of Lake Superior, in all of their ruggedness, are nothing like what one expects. It seems there’s a surprise at every turn. Drive up over one crest, pass by a slow-moving transport trailer, glide back down around a tight corner, come to another hilltop, and there it is, laid out majestically before you, bay after bay, inlet after inlet, stream after stream of landscape that almost quite literally stops you in your tracks, and probably would if it weren’t for the army of trucks descending upon you from every direction. Reknowned as a moose-maze, this piece of blacktop is more like a big-rig obstacle course with stunning scenery thrown in as an added distraction. Keep your eyes on the road, and stop as often as you can, whether to walk a beach, smell the sweet pine forest air, take in a commanding vista, or just to bask in the sunlight and wonder why life doesn’t always feel this full.

There are three places you must stop at that are easily accessible from Highway 17. The first is Pancake Bay Provincial Park, just west of Sault Ste-Marie. Pull into the park and head straight to the beach, or better yet, pitch your tent near the lake and listen to the soothing sounds of the crashing waves as you dream of lakes to come. The second is the Old Woman picnic grounds in Lake Superior Provincial Park, a short distance before Wawa. The view of the peninsula jutting out from the shore is seared into my memory, as is the feel of the bitter cold breeze blowing off the lake. The third is the lookout point between Wawa and White River, with a stunning view of a large bay of turquoise water framed by gigantic cliffs. This is perhaps one of the greatest vistas I have ever seen, and it’s just waiting for you along your way.

This was the tenth time I’ve gone on this route, and while I wasn’t much looking forward to it before leaving, I’ve been reminded of what exactly makes it such a memorable journey. And if you can score a place to stay in Winnipeg after your hard work, as I’ve had the lucky fortune to accomplish on this trip, then I’d have to say that life doesn’t get much better.

Luckily We Have Empire- Part 3 of 3

Check out Part 1, "The Hickey" & Part 2, "The Horse Hunt."

Back in the Colonies

Back downtown in the colonies, the two lovers rose slowly from their deep sleep. They had punished each other passionately all night, and felt they deserved a long slumber to rest their aching bodies.

They awoke simultaneously, not unusual for this odd pair, and he went straight to the washroom. He was, after all, the proud owner of one of the smallest bladders in the commonwealth. Upon discovery of the sinister brownish, yellowish, blackish, purplish marks on his neck, arms and chest, the boy grabbed for his clothes, and hurriedly left the girl's apartment yelling ever so loudly, "Help, help, help, a vampire has sucked my blood!"

The yelling punctured the early morning silence, and she jumped out of bed, as sexy as ever in her tight blue t-shirt. She looked around her apartment, but could find no signs of the beast. From her balcony, she blew her boy a kiss goodbye as he climbed onto his bike. She couldn't understand why he was holding up a clove of garlic with his right hand, and brandishing a stake in her general direction with his left, muttering something about Bram Stoker. He had always been a little strange, she thought, but boy oh boy, could he give her great orgasms, which is where her mind wandered to as he drove off. She asked herself, loud enough for her downstairs neighbour, who was working on harvesting her pot plants on this fine fall day, to hear: "When is he next going to bury his head between my legs? When?" After repeating that about five times, she finally heard herself and thought that her sentence structure sounded a bit queer.

Once at his place, he searched frantically for something to cover up all traces of his encounter with the said vampire. He didn't want to be identified as one of them, he knew he only had a few hours left before he became one of the walking dead. He chose a red jacket he bought in London town several months beforehand. Upon zipping it up, he looked at himself in the mirror, and thought, Damn, I look good in this jacket. Why the hell don't I wear it more often? Maybe now I will.

He pranced around his house for the rest of the day, taking every opportunity to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He never once thought about vampires again. In fact, his thoughts were pre-occupied with fantasies about his next trip to London town, where he saw himself buying a dozen more jackets and making out with the Queen Mum, who he had always had a repressed crush on.

Joe Sacco's "The Fixer"

Sitting down on a rainy Wolseley day, I decided to read Joe Sacco's graphic novel "The Fixer." Sacco, of "Palestine" fame, didn't disappoint, with his monochrome illustrations and edgy dialogue that capture the dark mood of the events surrounding the Siege of Sarajevo.

This is the story of Neven, a former paramilitary fighter battling to defend Sarajevo, turned "fixer," or someone who provides foreign journalists with access to war zones. The fact that Neven is himself Serb plays heavily in the story, and it's in his exploration of the mutil-ethnic disintegration of Sarajevo that Sacco provides his most trenchant political commentary.

Throughout "The Fixer," I was struck not so much by Sacco's writing, it is solid at parts, especially in the dialogue, but by his use of arresting images at key moments of suspense or intrigue. While a conventional novelist might capture the tragedy of bombed out buildings in prose, Sacco does so through stunning portrayals of streetscapes that movingly call us into the story. And his imagery changes with the mood, as we can see in his drawings of post-war Sarajevo: groups of people in clubs or on the streets, all with their eyes closed, as if to gesture towards their inability to look to the past, to revisit the trauma. This reliance on the image to communicate what would otherwise be written out for us in a novel points to the true strength of the medium.

The biggest problem I can identify with "The Fixer" is Sacco's treatment of women in the story. His ultra-masculine world has little room for women except as objects for the fighters. I understand that Sacco is trying to stay true to Neven's narrative, but he could've introduced some counter-narratives to Neven's acerbic story. Where are all the women in Sarajevo?

Despite these misgivings, this is still a tight story about the politics of war. The truly telling parts of the story are Sacco's in-depth discussion of the paramilitary forces in Sarajevo and their dubious roles as defenders of the city, and of Neven's later role as a "fixer," which is how Sacco met Neven, and how their relationship evolved over the years. One can't help but wonder if Sacco is a bit enamoured by his macho informant, or if his steady desire to please his benefactor is purely professional. Either way, their relationship holds this complex story together.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

An encounter on a London bus

Climbing the steps up to the second floor of the bus was so novel, foreign really. He loved it. Hannah looked at him and asked, half-jokingly, “Are you afraid of heights?” He looked away, wanting to hide his laughter. After all, he was the funny one, not her.

“Yes,” he replied seriously, “Can I go back to Canada?” She returned the favour and chuckled, almost giggled.

Chris and Martia had already sat down. They were facing the front of the bus, leaving Hannah and Georg to sit facing them. The London buses were so cozy in this way, he had only seen this type of set-up on trains in Canada, never on buses.

He was in a jovial kind of mood, and began his rant as soon as he sat down.

“Can you believe that guy at the squat? He just assumed I was American, didn’t even bother asking or nothing. I had to tell him, straight up: ‘You don’t want to be making that mistake with Canadians, we’re a bit sensitive about that.’ Anyways, I was just kidding really, but not. I mean, I didn’t want to come off harsh, but it really isn’t something you want to do. It’s not endearing, that’s it.”

She chimed in, a bit annoyed by his arrogance: “You need to understand that you sort of sound alike, Americans and Canadians, you have a certain twang. I sure can’t tell the difference between you. It’s not meant to be an insult…”

He didn’t miss a beat: “Sure, but you need to understand that we don’t like it, at all. Even though I think of myself as an anti-nationalist, I still don’t like it,” his voice was now getting louder, “it has something to do with American imperialism, you know?”

Just then he looked up and noticed a cute boy looking at him, a few seats behind Martia. He looked amused, a big grin spreading across his face.

Georg took this to mean he had an expanded audience: “So, it’s not that I think all Americans are bad people, in fact, I know they aren’t, it’s just that Canadians aren’t Americans!” He said this, rather amiably, but forcefully.

Hannah’s turn: “Alright, alright, I’m not daft. Take it easy. There’s no conspiracy against you, at least not that I know of.” She laughed at this, they all did.

Georg looked up and saw his new friend, with the short-cropped blond hair, laughing too, hardly concealing his surveillance. Georg fancied his smile. He was no longer paying attention to Martia, who was going on about gay men’s fashion sense, or lack thereof. What did she know?

The two boys stared at each other on the second floor of bus #345 from Camberwell to Shoreditch for what seemed like minutes, but was only 3 seconds. Georg felt an electric energy surge through his body. He looked away, smiling, got up and walked towards the boy with the too-cool hair. He sat beside him and looked him in the eyes.

“You seem quite interested in our conversation. What gives?” He was smooth, coy and confident even. He surprised himself.

The cute gay boy leaned over, and whispered into his ear: “I’m an American.”

Georg felt his voice travel up and down his spine, he almost shuddered, but he played it cool. He smiled broadly at this, thinking back at what he might just have said about Americans. He decided it didn’t really matter. “Not a good time to be one of those, is it now? Gay and American in another country, that’s rough.” He looked away, concealing his laughter. “At least you’re cute.” Oh yes, Georg added to himself, this boy is hot.

“I’m Eric, from Chicago. And I think you’re pretty cute too.” Georg felt his stomach flutter.

“I know, I could tell, why do you think I came over?” Georg is now having a good time with this. He’s been waiting for months to muster up the courage to approach someone he fancies, but getting over his previous relationship has been a long and tedious affair. He’s relishing this burst of sexual energy.

“I’m Georg, from Canada, but you already know that, don’t you? What are you doing in London?”

“I’m an architect, I’ve been here for 3 months, just decided it was time for a change.”

“That’s brave of you. Time for a change in London, eh? What are you doing now?” Georg doesn’t really know where this is headed, but it feels good nonetheless.

“I’m going to a club called On the Rocks. They have a trailer trash night, sort of indie-like. I’ve never been, but my friend swears by it. Trailer trash, how can you go wrong? What about you, where is your crew headed?”

“To be honest, I have no idea. I’m just along for the ride. Somewhere in Shoreditch for some hip-hop night or something. I usually always know where I’m going, but in London, I just follow people around, it’s a bit strange, but it works ‘coz I get to see a bunch of shit I’d never get to see otherwise. For example, I love these two-story buses, they’re so cool.”

Right then they look at each other nervously, the tension building in a bit of an awkward silence. Georg feels like leaning in and kissing this cute boy, but decides against it for now. Who knows who’s watching him on this bus? Instead, he continues to talk, he is a good storyteller after all.

“I’ve been here for 5 days, staying out near Camden Town. This is my first time going out on the town though. I’m quite excited, though I don’t really know what I’m getting into,. We just went to this squat in Camberwell, they had this queer night where most people weren’t queer, with this American woman from Portland playing the slide guitar, it was a very strange scene. The food was good though, veggie chilli with cauliflower curry. Nice mix.” He looks over to find Eric holding back laughter. “I’m glad to see I’m amusing you. Was it something I said then?”

“No, no. Sorry, it’s what you haven’t said.”

The words just sort of hang there, lingering there between them. They both smile broadly, as their hearts beat a bit faster. And faster still…

Luckily We Have Empire- Part 2 of 3

Check out Part 1,"The Hickey."

The Horse Hunt

Upon hearing of Charles’ death from one of the caretaker’s in the stables the next day, Wanamaker resolved to act on her desires, as Charles always told her to, and the next time she took The Mum for a ride, she ran feverishly, neighing wildly, and jumped the fence at the northeast corner of the royal horse yard. In effect, she kidnapped The Mum, much to the latter’s absolute delight. This unleashed a horse-hunt the size of which had never been seen before in the history of the British Empire.

Wanamaker and The Mum were able to evade the authorities through the help of a series of resting places and good Samaritans who believed in the power of love. They called themselves “The Rainbow Coalition against Britain” or RCAB for short. For several months they traveled through the British countryside in this manner, staying with other horses and some people, eating delectable country meals and neighing all night under the stars, until one day they reached their destination in northern Scotland, in a desolate sound, where the people there, all Scottish nationalists, had a long history of aiding fugitives from British rule.

This, however, was the first time they aided a runaway horse and monarch, and they were understandably tickled at the idea of having The Mum herself stay amongst them, which she did, until she died peacefully in her sleep, with Wanamaker at her side, seven short years later.

The English authorities never did gather any credible information as to the whereabouts of The Mum, and after two weeks of searching, the Royal Family released a brief press release declaring that the Queen Mum had died in her sleep the night before at the ripe old age of 105. They preferred this option over explaining to their subjects, that, in fact, their prize-winning filly, who loved The Mum and her now deceased trainer dearly, had kidnapped her, and that they had no idea where to find either of them.

The queen was so upset at the turn of events that she became quite paranoid for her own safety and that of her grandchildren. On the eve of The Mum’s funeral, she called the British Prime Minister and ordered him to launch pre-emptive war against three of Britain’s largest former colonies, as she suspected they had something to do with her mother’s disappearance.

The Prime Minister dutifully responded. That afternoon, he got on his Blackberry and ordered air strikes over Calcutta, Mumbai and New Delhi on Saturday, over Nairobi on Sunday and over Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver on Monday. At his press conference on Tuesday after the impromptu bombings, he muttered something intelligent about the British military only using smart bombs that limited casualties in highly populated urban cores. When a Canadian reporter asked him why Britain had bombed Canada, a long-time ally and a member of the elite club of Anglo countries that dominate world politics, the Prime Minister almost shuddered in disbelief.

“Canada? Oh sweet, sweet Jesus! That wasn’t our intention at all. That was a mistake, we didn’t mean to bomb other white people. I mean, we were…aiming for somewhere else, but there was a miscalculation, some misinformation that led to a decision that wasn’t quite what we were looking for. In fact, it was credible information about the whereabouts of a very important person, a VIP, and I acted on it somewhat in a haze, and I really thought that our smart bombs would just scare them, you know, smoke them out, as it were. I hope that those evil-doers in Kenya, Canada and India, with their shady, dangerously unpredictable transnational network of, well, like I said, we had credible intelligence about the role the Canadian Prime Minister was playing in fomenting things we don’t like here, and I can’t really say much more, except we regret that thousands of innocent civilians died in Canada, and of course, we think that India will be fine and that place in Africa we bombed will probably recover in the very near future. But the important thing is that we just made the British people feel safer, and if my Mum in Lancashire will sleep better tonight, then, you know, strategically bombing Toronto’s transit system was most likely worth it in the end. Next question please.”

Everyone in the room looked around in utter disbelief. The Prime Minister had once again forgotten to do up his fly before this all-important press conference.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

There's Something About Dancing

The pulsating music, the moving bodies, the smell of sweat sticking to your nostrils. There's something about dancing in a hall full of complete strangers that's so therapeutic, almost spiritual. It's so easy to get lost in the moment, in the beat. The best dance party in Ottawa happens every third Friday. It's got a cool vibe, not a meat market, queer-friendly, just a bunch of kids letting it loose on a Friday night. Oh yeah, did I mention the breakdancers and the graffiti artists?

In describing the night, one of my friends said people were genuine and I think that sort of captured the scene tonight. Nobody pretending to have fun here, just those who appreciate good DJs and DJs who appreciate the crowd. After a year since starting up, Timekode has now become an Ottawa must-do for any cool kid who digs dancing. Great on the organizers for having the courage to set this up, it was slow going for a little while, but no longer, the house was packed tonight, so get there early next time.

Timekode, every third Friday of the month, at Eri's Cafe, Somerset (just west of Preston), Ottawa, Canada.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Luckily We Have Empire- Part 1 of 3

The Hickey

Last night, in the concealed darkness of a downtown evening, a girl, whose name has not been released by the authorities, sucked on her boy so passionately that she left permanent marks on his neck, arms and chest.

Upon hearing this news during her weekly briefing on the goings-on in her majesty's colonies, the Queen Mum gasped in horror and peed herself. Luckily, Charles Tupper, her horse trainer, was there with a bedpan and was able to conserve most of the yellowish urine for her next physical examination.

"Good Lord, Charles, what are you doing down there between my legs?" The Mum was heard screeching. "If you're going to be down there, you might as well do it right, like that girl in the colonies, goodness, she knew what she was doing, didn't she Charles?"

Charles, looking up at her yellowed, aging long-panties, could only whisper, breathlessly, "Yes, she really has the right shit, I mean, stuff, doesn’t she? Have you ever had someone suck on your neck, your majesty?"

Confused, The Mum looked down at this man, her horse trainer, and asked, somewhat incredulously, "Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting, Charles? Have you been harming the horses?"

"Oh no, dear Mum, not at all, their necks are much too high for my tastes. But yours, on the other hand, is just my height..."

The suggestion lay heavy in the musty, stale air of the powder room. The Queen Mum stood there, upright, thinking about what mascara she should wear to her afternoon tea to cover up her flustered cheeks, while Charles, kneeling between The Mum’s feet, looked down into the ground at the remaining pool of liquid, his heart pounding so hard he was afraid The Mum would feel a tremor through her long-panties. His thoughts wandered to Wanamaker, their prize-winning filly, and the feel of her fine neck hair against his smooth, supple lips. His heart raced faster, and a copious amount of blood fled to his extremities, hardening them in a way he only experienced around The Mum and Wanamaker.

Why couldn’t that filly be rubbing up against The Mum as I looked up her skirt, he thought to himself. “Is that wrong?” He heard himself say this out loud, and felt mortified. His face turned purple, the same colour, in fact, as the many varicose veins running up and down The Mum’s inner thighs.

“Oh no Charles, this feels just right. Just right. All I need is a little bit more sugar in my tea, if you know what I mean, dear…” She purposefully let her last word linger there, like a hanging chad, a flirtatious exhilaration not often seen in 105 year old monarchs. “Yes, indeed dear, more sugar would be fine, I already lost all of my real teeth, so there’s really no chance of rotting them anymore, thank Jesus.”

Charles’ heart beat even faster, until it beat no more. The thought of yellowing long-panties, purple varicose veins, Wanamaker’s brown fleshy fur and The Mum spraying urine for him, was too much. He lay there, in The Mum’s pee, his body flailed about, face down, leaning against The Mum’s inner calf.

His last thought was of Wanamaker galloping valiantly through an open meadow near Inverness, slowing down at the approach of The Mum over a green knoll, pulling up beside her, neighing sweetly as she lay her head on The Mum’s broad left shoulder. The look on The Mum’s face was of pure bliss, a smile spread across her blushing face from cheek to cheek. They stood like that for what seemed to be hours in his mind, but was really only three seconds, until his heart beat for the last time, sending him into cardiogenic shock.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gatineau Park Photo Essay

Tonight Will Be Fine- Part 2 of 2

Check out Part I, before scrolling down. Or be crazy and don't.
He looks over at her, with that mischieveous smile she loves so much. He's thinking this is nice, sitting on the picnic table, looking at the stars together.

"Why are you smiling? What are you thinking about?" She's half-joking, she knows full-well that he won't say.

"Let's walk, that's what we're here for, isn't it." He gets up off the table.

"Sure, that seems about right. It is a bit cold out, walking would be good." She likes the idea, they were a bit too close on the table, she could hear his breath, and the last time she remembers that, they were in a movie theatre, naked from the waist down, his breath in her ear. She liked the walking idea.

"Well, what is it? Why did you kidnap me in the middle of the night? What's so important?" She's pressing, not sure what to expect, she never has been, and realizes that might be why she can't let go.

"I already said, it's nothing like that, I want us to be friends. And I don't know how to make that happen. But, this could be a start, no?" He's not sure that's what he wants, but given everything that has happened recently, he's not ready to suggest anything else.

She decides not to reply. They continue walking, and she slides her arm around his shoulders, and pulls him close. He looks over, smiling, glad they're here together, not sure what to do or say next.

"Look at the moon, it's wonderful." She's smiling now, her arm no longer around him, but still walking closely, closer than most friends ever will. And they both know it.

"Yeah, it's nearly perfect." Another of his mysterious smiles spreads across his face.

He turns to her, and catches her smile. "You better be careful, you might stop being so mad if you keep it up, and who knows what happens then." He's teasing her, he knows he can get away with it now by the look on her face, and more importantly, by the way she's touching him.

"Don't tell anyone, ok? I have a reputation to keep." She matches his wit, as she always has. He's impressed. That's why I love her, he thinks quietly to himself.

They walk, arm in arm, for another 30 minutes, without saying a word. Down side streets neither of them have ever been, in the darkness of the early morning, now just past 430am.

“Hey, give me a hug." She turns to him, and holds her arms outstretched. They embrace, tightly, strongly.

"I really like the feel off your coat, is that corduroy?" He whispers in her ear playfully.

She pulls back. "Yes, it's corduroy." She speaks in a voice she knows she has only ever used in his presence. She's not sure how she feels about that. But being in his arms is heavenly, that much she knows.

"Ok." He says it smiling wildly, laughing a light laugh, nearly under his breath. They’ve somehow stumbled back onto the car. He looks over at her. "This is good. Let's go." He wraps his arm around her waist, while she pulls him closer from around his shoulders.

In the car, they both sing passionately, like old times, and enjoy each other's company fully. Like only old friends and lovers can.

They pull up to her apartment, and look at each other. He turns and gets out of the car, walks to her door and opens it.

"You're opening the door for me?" She seems touched, but is actually wishing they had sat there longer, listening to music and talking.

"Yeah I guess." He was actually getting out to give her a hug, because doing it in the car would have been awkward and he knows he wouldn't have been able to drive away. "Give me a hug."

They stand there, at 530am on a September Saturday morning, with a hint of light on the horizon, the stars about the fade until night falls again, holding each other, rocking slightly side to side. Rocking, and not letting go. Finally, after a long embrace, they move apart. And she leans in, kisses his right cheek gently, while caressing his face tenderly. He feels her love, and she sees it in his eyes, following her every move.

They smile, and he walks away. "Bye." He waves, meekly, unconvincingly. "I should go."

She looks at him, across the hood of the car now, and says, "I don't want to leave your car. I don't want to leave." She can't believe what's coming out of her mouth.

"Neither do I." He stands, looking at her, chewing his lower lip. They look at each other like this, him chewing his lip, her smiling nervously for what seems to be minutes, but in a matter of seconds, he climbs into his car.

They wave to each other as he pulls away. A couple of minutes later he turns onto the highway and drives towards the eastern sky just as the light begins making its full effect. He catches the last star in the sky, one they had remarked on during their walk. He remembers looking over at her shining face while she was looking up at the sky, and being moved almost to tears by how beautiful she looked in that light. Oddly, he feels an intense sense of happiness.

She walks up the stairs to her apartment, stairs she first walked up with him, and she's reminded of those times, when he was happy, light, when they were so in love. When she gets to her apartment, she sits on her couch, and thinks about the times they had in her space. She wishes he was there with her now, in the shower, hot, sweaty, so she can watch him, his body, and see him watch her, desiring her. She misses his touch so much. She lies her head on her pillow, and yearns for his warmth next to hers, for his touch on her back, his loving caress, his body, tightly against hers, his deep breath on the nape of her neck, his loving words in her ear. She falls asleep, exhausted by the turn of events.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Un séjour a Montréal- Rosemont

À chaque fois que je viens a Montréal, peut être une dizaine de fois dans deux ans, je découvre un petit coin de quartier qui me plaît un peu plus que le dernier. Cette fois-ci, c’était le quartier où je restais chez mon frère, Rosemont.

Il y a plein de verdure dans les alentours, plusieurs parcs et sentiers de cyclisme. En plus, on retrouve le Parc Maisonneuve, un gros parc vouté de pistes, de zones paysagées, d’arbres majestueux, et bien sûr, d’endroits pour jouer. On dirait un terrain de golfe, avec ses petites collines incontournables et ses obstacles bien placés. Très joli.

En plus de ses bijoux verts, il y a de nombreux boulangeries ancestrales et de petits restaurants locaux. Ce n’est pas Mile End avec ses cafés chics, ou le Plateau avec ses divers restaurants. Non, c’est un quartier de classe ouvrière, où les gens ne mettent pas d’air.

Le seul gros désanvantage de cette région, en termes du paysage urbain, c’est le Stade Olympique. Coudons, qui a eu l’idée pour le design de cette monstrosité ? C’est affreux. Et pour penser que Vancouver est maintenant entrain de construire une infrastructure semblable pour les Olympiques de 2010. Si vous pensez encore que les Olympiques sont une bonne idée, allez à Rosemont visiter le Stade, un exemple d’architecture moderne qui reste vide quasiment à l’année longue. Est-ce possible de penser à des Olympiques sans nation, des petits jeux qui rassemblent du monde d’un peu partout pour célébrer ensemble, sans gros projets qui nous laissent des édifices délaissés et déverse de l’argent qu’on pourrait dépenser sur des régimes sociaux?

Bon, je reviens à Rosemont, un quartier de Montréal mal connu qui vaut la peine de visiter. Prenez le métro, ligne bleu, dans la direction de Honoré-Beaugrand, et débarquez a Pie-IX. Demandez des directions pour le Parc Maisonneuve, et passez l’après-midi dans le parc, à picniquer, à se promener, à s’amuser dehors.

Tonight Will Be Fine- Part 1 of 2

They find themselves in a park, under the cover of darkness, just down the street from where she lives, and where he used to. They're sitting on a picnic table, awkwardly close, he thinks, yet so very comforting.

Only hours before, he was struck by a debilitating crisis of loneliness, and sought her out like he had so many times before. It was past 130am when he finally reached her. "L? is that u?" He had written her when her online status had flashed on his screen. He was going to call, but decided that it was a bit much to call past midnight, so he decided to message her instead, all the while questioning the wisdom of such a move.

"d? yes, it's me, what do you want?" She was being cold, not ready to forgive.

He thought that it sounded a bit harsh, something he had never experienced from her, but given recent events, he understood. "To chat?" He feels like a cat prowling, undeterred.

"Ok. First, let me be clear, what are your intentions, your motivations?" She was being firm, she had been burnt too many times before.

He pauses for a long time, unsure how to answer, he was expecting this to be a bit easier, lighter.

"d? Did you get my last message?" She will not let her question go unanswered.

"Yes. Just thinking...give me a minute."

Five more pass, while he's going over every possible way he could answer that question. He decides on something that's only marginally satisfactory, but no words seem to capture his feelings.

"I could say a lot of things I suppose, but I'm writing you because I've been thinking about you, and wonder how you're doing. We haven’t spoken in a while.” He leaves it at that, somewhat suggestive, but also kind.

"Fine, I was mad as hell, you know that, don't you?" she replies, but the interrogation mark seems out of place, strange since she's so clearly trying to make a bold statement. "And I don't really know what we could have to say to each other.”

His heart sinks. "Yeah...” He was hoping she'd be in a laughing mood.

"Look, it's nice to know that you care, but what do you want exactly? I'm still not clear." She's in no mood for games, something she told him last time they spoke, over two months ago now.

He's stuck, so goes with something easy. "It's nice to know you're, well, alive sounds so dramatic, but that you're around and well." He feels sheepish. Around and well, how lame, he thinks to himself. We should be talking in person, I'm way better in person, and if I see her, maybe I'll know what to say.

"Let's go for a walk now." He feels bold, and isn't entirely sure how she'll react, but he feels confident about being able to handle her response.

"It's late, and I live far..." She leaves the door open purposefully.

"And I have a car..." He thinks his poetic response deserves some serious consideration. "And I'm cute, and we haven't seen each other in a long time." He's trying humour again.

She thinks about this for a few minutes. She's upset she's even considering it. But she can't help herself, she feels madly connected to him, it's something she has never been able to explain to him, to herself, to others around her who question her, who judge her for constantly hanging onto something with so little potential.

"Yeah, I'll go for a walk with you." She's surprised at how easy this has all been. Just an hour before she had been out with her new lover, out having an exciting time, she felt alive, strong, like she had been dealt a great blow and moved on, untouched, unharmed. Moments before he messaged her, she was thinking of how empowering it was to be falling in love again. And now they were going for a walk, at 230am.

"Where should I meet you? I can be there in 15 minutes. Does that work?" He presses on, wanting nothing else but to see her, perhaps as a test, perhaps to fulfill some fantasy.

"Same old. 149.”

"See you then. Meet me out front."

"Ok." She's now feeling pangs of anxiety in her stomach, entirely unfamiliar of late. She hates that feeling, and associates it with him, and the pain she has endured for the past year. And he'll be on her doorstep in minutes.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

If you’re anything like me, the prospect of reading a comic book for its poignant and incisive political commentary is a foreign concept. But once you read Maus, you can’t help but find new respect for the medium.

Where does one start with Maus? I can identify at least four different and overlapping narratives, each one adding another layer to an already complex story. The central narrative is ostensibly that of Vladek Spiegelman, Art’s father, and his experiences as a Polish Jew leading up to the WWII, through his internment at Auschwitz, Dachau, and a number of other sites throughout Poland and Germany, until his miraculous survival. I refuse to write much about this experience, it speaks for itself. What adjectives, what words, does one use to describe such violence? I can say only that I lack confidence in my own ability to do so. And yet, if this was only a work discussing Vladek’s life pre-1945, then it would be moving, but instead, Spiegelman manages to weave other narratives that serve to demonstrate how everyone close to him has been and continues to be touched by the events of the Nazi-period.

The second narrative is the story of the relationship between Art and Vladek. This is told primarily through Art’s interviews with his father about his experiences post-1930 or so, but also comes out at a number of moments when Art and at times, his wife Francoise, come to care for Vladek. This is a brilliant exploration of the dynamics between father and son, and how their relationship has been impacted by Vladek’s traumatic history.

The next major narrative is the love story between Vladek and Anja, Art’s mother. Somehow, the two of them manage to stay alive through all the turmoil and destruction around them. They even find a way to see each other for a period in Auschwitz, no small feat under those horrible circumstances. It is their love that continues to propel Art forward in his quest to hear his father’s story, as it does for the reader. Perhaps it is the hopeless romantic in me, but the moment they are reunited after the war is exceptionally beautiful, and not because the story is organized to hedge on this drama, like most love stories- that can’t be the case, because we already know that they’ll be re-united, that’s where Art comes in after all. It is precisely the fact that it is not meant to be the story that gives it its unshakeable pull. There’s nothing special about the reunion, given the difficult circumstances of post-WWII Poland for Jews, but with their loving embrace, well, my heart beat faster. The narrative of their love is both redeeming and tragic because we already know that Anja killed herself in the U.S. twenty years later. One can’t tell what Vladek regrets the most in his later years, his wartime experiences, or Anja’s loss. Of course, they are in a sense, one and the same.

The last narrative, what I see as the meta-narrative, is the story about Art writing Maus. This comes out during his interviews for his book with Vladek, but is also made more explicit in his discussions with Francoise and his shrink, Pavel. In this storyline, Art’s insecurities about his writing ability, as well as his guilt over his parents’ experiences, is highlighted. Like the rest of Maus, the true strength of Spiegelman’s work is in the dialogue. Rarely have I seen such animated, and truly engaging representations of everyday life. Combined with his artful and inventive drawings- Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, French are frogs, Americans are dogs, Roma are moths- the dialogue shines through, giving the story its true strength.

Because of this, the reader is not drawn into a story of good and evil, where those not involved in this violence contemporaneously can simply will it away as disembodied acts of evil done by other people. No, Spiegelman shows us the fine line between good and evil inhabits us all, while still trying to cope with the ways in which the WWII Holocaust continues to haunt those around him. In reading through Maus, we’re forced to think through our own complicity in violence, and how we each deal with guilt, regret, and most notably, love, in hard times.

It’s a treasure I’m glad to have found. I’ll never look at a graphic novel or comic book the same way again.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Arcade Fire in Concert

Last night I saw the Arcade Fire in concert at the Maurice Richard Arena in East Montreal. If you have never seen them in concert, it’s a must. Their reputation as show-stoppers precedes them wherever they go, but they lived up to my higher-than-usual expectations.

After waiting in line for nearly an hour to pick up our tickets, we snaked into the arena and skipped a security check to get down on the floor in general admission. This was a brilliant move, as the heat and energy on the arena floor rose and fell with Arcade Fire’s rolling performance.

I can’t say what I enjoyed most. Maybe it was Régine Chassagne’s haunting vocals on The Backseat or Haiti, or her whirling energy on-stage, as she ran from place to place, playing the accordion, two different types of drums, the tambourine, the organ, and the electric piano, as well as lead and backup vocals. She was a sight to see on stage, decked out in her long black dress, never far from the action. And then there was lead man Win Butler, in his old-school suspenders, pinstripes and high-hanging pants, commanding my attention through his larger-than-life presence on stage. While he didn’t hit all the high notes-he did after all have throat surgery recently- he more than made up for it through his steady power guitar and his lilting mandolin. I’d really like to hear what the two of them talk about in their matrimonial bliss.

As for the rest of the AF crew, what can one say? Going to an Arcade Fire show is less about listening than it is about seeing, if that's even possible for a band with such a full sound. All ten band members bring something unique to the stage and can captivate you during any one song. In addition to this, they had cameras set up around the stage filming, and then beaming onto five circular screens surrounding them, showing the AF from a bunch of surreal angles and in a type of slow-motion black and white, reminiscent of the 1950s. It was divine.

The one disappointment was the crowd. I expected to come to Montreal and be buoyed by the hometown crowd, but instead I was left wondering where Montreal’s joie de vivre had gone. One possible explanation is that in trying to keep up with the frantic moves onstage, people sort of get lulled into a near comatose-like state. Or everyone was right high. I don’t buy either though. Next time, I hope the energy of the crowd matches that of the Arcade Fire onstage.

The exception, and the moment I'll probably remember most vividly in concerts to come, was once they played Rebellion (Lies), the last song of the set. After giving the AF an ovation, the crowd, I think it started in the stands, began to chant the melody from Lies, and it slowly built up, up, up, until after five minutes, it came to a crescendo, I'd say almost all 4,000 people were chanting together, badly yes, but chanting nonetheless. It was one of those spine-tingling moments that only come around every so often, memorable in its organic intensity. Magical. Of course, the AF came back to play Ocean of Noise and Keep the Car Running, but it no longer mattered, the moving moment had come and gone.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

I can taste your Fear

There’s something about love that moves, like a long, meandering drive in the countryside. Yesterday, I felt like a racecar driver, up and over hills, left and right around tight curves in the road. The exhilaration passed as a high, with its own peaks and valleys, as the forest blurred around me. And yet, there’s something about love that moves, like a field of golden wheat I saw blowing in a warm Prairie wind a long-ago afternoon. I was in love on that day. That love lasted years, on the strength of the wind blowing that wheat field. Rushing through it. Mercifully. Like all breezes, it subsided, in this case, when I least expected it to, when I grew accustomed to it. But the wind never fully settles, a lesson to learn. I’m taking note.

When the wind does die down, and we are left with nothing but emptiness, what then? We wait, in fear, wonder, perhaps for some, panic-stricken, for the movement in the field. What else but love?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Ten Reasons to Love Spring

1. (Undecided)
2. Paddling around, oblivious to everything but the sound of the lapping waves and the gentle rustling of trees
3. Laughing with friends on an outdoor balcony/patio
4. Sweating profusely while working outdoors
5. Wearing a tee, without reservations
6. The cacophony of birds across a glistening lake
7. Walking lazily in sandals, sand between the toes
8. Working in the garden, nourishing life
9. Feeling the glorious shining sun on my face
10. An osprey eyeing fish along a creek