Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Time's Made Up My Mind

I dreamt that life had passed me by. In fact, there it was, racing by me, NASCAR-style, with no planned stops. I swore at it every time. I yelled at the top of my lungs, urging it to stop for me, to just let me take a breath before I jumped back in. Please give me a moment, and I’ll be right back on board. But there were no moments to spare. And it passed me by, over and over again.

For the first two years I put up a good fight. A great fight even. I ran and ran and ran, never looking back, trying to catch up. Then I stopped and waved and waved and waved, until I realized that there was no waiting for me. Finally, after two years of this nonsense, I resigned myself to accept my fate. I stood there, watching it pass me by over and over again.

There it would be, with different passengers every time, people with purposes, with steely gazes, with goals and plans and blackberries and lists. I had none of that.

Then something odd happened. I woke up. The dream was over. There had never been a race. Only misplaced regrets. Time’s made up my mind. I’ve become a driver. And I wasn’t even looking for a job.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Phantom Strike

Summer thundershowers feel like a loving embrace. Comforting. A phantom strike in the night, when darkness unveils the stars and the sky lights up with moonlight. The smell of the rain, its dampness, reminds me of days long past, when thunder made me cower into a corner, waiting...


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New York City Photo Montage

Public art or crass advertisement? You be the judge...

Found on a street corner. Tells you only part of the story.

Manhattan far in the rainy distance of a Brooklyn rooftop.

Central Park north on a cloudy Sunday

Friends above Brooklyn, gazing out at the endless urban landscape.

Brownstones on Lenox/Malcolm X north of Central Park.

Eating Vegan in Harlem

There we were, just arrived in Harlem, and we were headed down to the local vegan restaurant- Uptown Juice Bar (54 West 125th Street just east of Malcolm X).

What a treat, amazing vegan soul food and fresh-squeezed juices in the heart of Harlem, only blocks away from the busy Malcolm X corridor. My favourite was the faux BBQ chicken drumsticks, perfectly seasoned, like no BBQ sauce I've ever had before. Another favourite was the fake fried chicken stir fry mixed in with plantain, well-suited to my vegan palate.

In addition to the succulent spin on southern home-cooking, the Uptown has a well-stocked juice bar with well over 30 separate varieties of fresh juices. I chose the papaya & pineapple hypertension mix, which was sweetly refreshing.

Uptown Juice Bar is a popular spot for a good reason. Check it out the next time you're in Harlem. Large plates with four food options cost $9, while a large juice goes for about $4.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Palestine by Joe Sacco

After starting it a couple of months ago, I finally got around to finishing Joe Sacco's brilliant graphic novel Palestine. Admittedly, I put it down at the time because I felt emotionally strained by its strong central narrative. But, after looking at it staring at me from various places in my life since the beginning of June, among them table tops, bookshelves, and the backseat of my car, I returned to Sacco's harrowing tale of injustice and resistance.

Any book that comes loaded with a 5 page foreword (entitled "Homage to Joe Sacco"!) by Edward Said, the late and great Palestinian-American public intellectual, is definitely a book I want to engage with intellectually. This is precisely the case with Sacco's oeuvre.

Don't make the mistake of seeing this book, essentially a compilation of Sacco's comic strip of the same name, as an easy read. It is not. Sacco, himself inspired by Said, set out to visit Palestine and Palestinians near the end of the first intifada, and to illustrate their lives under Israeli occupation. This is precisely what he does with stunning clarity.

From squalid refugee camps to East Jerusalem, from tales of resistance to stories of horrific violence, Sacco walks us through the myriad complexities of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. This is a story of tremendous terror, the type that masks itself not primarily in bombs and guns - although it seems that every Palestinian who Sacco meets has been touched in some way or another by torture, gunfire, or beatings - but the terror of being perpetually imprisoned in the everyday. It is this permanent state of claustrophobic horror, where a disaster, in any number of forms, is always waiting right around the corner, that unsettled me to the core.

The techniques the various Israeli forces (whether the IDF or settler security organizations) use to humiliate, dis-empower and ultimately disarm Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation is nothing but overwhelming in its planned intensity. Demolishing decades-old olive groves, randomly bulldozing homes, vengefully controlling water levels and electricity, collectively punishing thousands and thousands of people with extreme financial deprivation - it's all stock-and-trade of the Israeli occupation.

Sacco masterfully captures this all in black-and-white scenes of conversations in Palestinian homes over steaming cups of tea. But his artwork is strongest in capturing the stifling and at times vibrant street life of Jabalia, a large refugee camp in Gaza, perhaps the most densely populated piece of land in the world (65,000 people in two square kilometres), or the bustling Arab markets of East Jerusalem. Through it all, Sacco gives a human touch to the Palestinian people, not through demonizing Jewish Israelis, or even idealizing Palestinians, but by asking us to question our own humanity in the face of such systematic deprivation.

There are two observations about this book that I must mention before closing. First, I began to read Palestine right after reading Art Spiegelman's amazing Maus: A Survivor's Tale. The reason I had to put Palestine down was because of the undeniable parallels in techniques of terror used by those in power. Whether the Nazis in Germany or the Israelis in Occupied Palestine, the consistently de-humanizing strategies described in both stories were extremely troubling to me, not only because of the intense irony of Jewish people and survivors of an almost incomprehensible Holocaust then engaging in many similar tactics, but mostly because of the planned intensity of such de-humanization. This was oftentimes paralyzingly mind-boggling. But I found a way out of this moral and intellectual quandary to read through the rest of Sacco's work.

Second, besides the many stories of violence, it was the inspiring stories of Palestinian resistance that most often struck the deepest chords with me. The best example is of the organization and resistance in the Ansar III prison, built specifically for the overflow of prisoners due to the intifada. Despite the unbelievable humiliation, violence and over-crowding of the place, prisoners organized themselves in units to welcome newcomers, equitably organize meals and even teach university courses - including such topics as the history of the Jewish peoples - and any number of inspiring examples of human creativity in the face of utter adversity.

All in all, I recommend Palestine to all readers wanting to learn more about Palestine and the Palestinian people. Importantly, it also stands out as a beacon of hope in a sea of excuses for the ongoing Israeli occupation. As Sacco put it in his foreword, written in 2001, "The Palestinian and Israeli people will continue to kill each other in low-level conflict or with shattering violence - with suicide bombers or helicopter gunships and jet bombers - until this central fact - Israeli occupation - is addressed as an issue of intellectual law and basic human rights."

While I might disagree with his reliance on a law framework to limit our discussion of violence, it nonetheless strikes me as a moral stance well-worth taking.

21 Day Diagnostic Update

I've decided it’s time for another site update.

Here are my more recent stats from google analytics. This covers the period from July 21st-August 11th, in which I had 340 pages views from 195 visits.

My five most popular pages were:

1. my home page (59.4%)

2. my ‘bluesfest 2007’ label (6.2%)

3. my ‘my photos’ label (5.9%)

4. my ‘come to bc, see bears’ entry (3.9%)

5. my ‘hawksley workman at bluesfest’ review (2.9%)

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Wolfe Island Music Fest

Last night I went to Kingston to check out the Wolfe Island Music Fest. Friday night featured the Hootenanny Tour, a rotating review of Canada's cow punk scene. It included such talent as Jim Bryson, Julie Fader, Luther Wright and Jenny Whiteley.

After the twenty minute ferry ride from downtown Kingston, the festivities got under way shortly after sunset, just enough time for those people arriving on the 8pm boat to set up their tents in the park around the corner from the Town Hall square.

The show lasted well into the night, with the last note from the one-song encore drowning out over the St-Lawrence past 1130pm. While the pace was hardly frenetic throughout the set, it was nonetheless a delightful evening of music under the stars.

The highlights from the evening were numerous. After some discussion with my fellow concert-goers, Jim Bryson's solo performances stood out as the most inspiring of the evening. His mix of melancholic and up-tempo folk showed off his ever-expanding repertoire. He's truly one of the area's finest musicians.

Another of my favourites was Chris Brown, of Bourbon Tabernacle Choir fame. When he took to the stage to perform some of his own material, the crowd waited in silence for what surely was some of the best music of the evening. I'll be looking out for him in the future.

Also, Sam of Sheesham and Lotus, put on a great performance playing the stand-up bass and banjo, even though at times the banjo was sadly drowned out by the cacophony of instruments on stage. Note to organizers: bring up the levels on the banjo, it's a hootenanny after all.

Lastly, Sarah Harmer came on and sang a few of her own songs, and in my mind made up for her abysmal performance at Bluesfest a month ago. She was a wonderful addition to the train of performances.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay for the second day, what they were calling the 'rock' day, but one night of bluegrass on Wolfe Island was enough to convince me to go again next year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Une trame sonore

Je me prépare, patiemment, pour le moment quand ma vie tombera en place, comme une pièce dans une casse-tête. C’est peu être inutile, ou même désespéré, mais l’attente est si importante qu’il semble parfois y avoir rien d’autre.

Comment savoir quand j’y arrive ? Ceci me reste un gros mystère, qui se cache sagement dans les corridors de mon écorce cérébrale. Caché oui, mais laissant des traces, des morceaux d’appâts, comme un leurre jeté à l’eau d’une chaloupe de pêche. Même le trajectoire de la ligne avant qu’elle plonge dans l’eau, le demi-cercle parfait sortant du moulinet, le mouvement quasi-artistique, me frappe, doucement bien sûr, mais sans faute. Cet image me dit que la vie n’est surtout pas ce qu’on en pense.

Je me trouve à compter le nombre de jour depuis que je suis bloqué sur ma cible, sur mon obsession. Est-ce vrai que tout va un jour sembler évident ? La trame sonore dehors, à l’autre bord de ma fenêtre, de mon mur, de la nature qui me berce doucement dans ses bras forts, me dit autrement. Les cigales chanteront toujours, jusqu’au levé du soleil, mais jamais pareillement. Tout comme nous.

Pour cette raison, il n’y aura pas de moment éclairant, quand tout tombera en place. Ça, j’en suis certain. En effet, le plus qu’on peut espérer c’est pour le potentiel d’aimer, de nous donner aux autres pleinement. C’est une trame sonore qui vaut toujours la peine d’écouter.