Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Did anybody notice?

Today at 10:55 a.m., I cut the power in our house. This was part of a project initiated in France where people would turn off their power for five minutes, to allow the planet '5 minutes of down time.'

The purpose was to remind our political leaders that climate change is the most important issue facing all of us.

I haven't seen anything in the news about this yet. It's just been Internet buzz. Here's hoping there were others who participated in this silent but potentially potent (I won't say powerful) protest.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

50 ways to...50 manières à...Part/Partie 2a

Between going away and then coming home to do catch-up, I’ve come down with a killer of a cold. Not a good month health-wise, but hey, I have at least managed one more event on my 50 for 50 project.

#15 (Jan 25-28) Even though I haven't been up to going out, I found something I could be part of from home. I’d like to call it participatory art, along the lines of the old Participaction fitness campaign. Participartaction, anyone?

In spite of the project’s active-sounding name, Words on the Move, it really isn’t one bit athletic.

This is the fourth year the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada has sponsored what can only be called a group translation fest. They’ve posted two poems on their website: one in English, one in French. They’ve asked members of the public to provide a translation of one of the poems. They say ‘into any language’ – do you suppose Igpay Atinlay counts?

Unfortunately, deadline for submissions is tomorrow, the 29th, so my entry is squeaking in right under the wire.

Since they plan to post all entries after the 7th of February, this is a great chance to get a different sort of publication credit. Now, if only I could find a more delicate translation for mes couilles.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

In prison – again

Near the end of last October I was lucky enough to be part of a group of a dozen writers who spent a Saturday and Sunday meeting with inmates of Matsqui, a medium-security penitentiary in Abbotsford, BC. The men are part of an ongoing writers’ group led by Surrey’s Ed Griffin.

Yesterday’s visit was different. For one thing, there were only two of us, Mary Reid and myself. Rather than attending as part of a pre-arranged retreat, we were going on more of a fact-finding mission. And we weren’t going back to Matsqui, we were going to William Head, a facility on Vancouver Island near Victoria.

The day was gorgeous – one of those perfect days I can only call ‘pre-spring’ – it felt as though everything was just on the brink of bursting into the new season. It was a joy to be in such a beautiful setting, on Canada’s western shore, looking out across to the water to the peaks of the Cascades. I could only think, if you have to be in prison, William Head is at least a very beautiful place to be.

Wally, our guide, was both patient and knowledgeable. We visited a number of facilities there, including the Native Centre, where the men make drums and other traditional objects. We learned a lot about the place, including that the site used to be a quarantine station for new immigrants to Canada. What stories must be hidden in the little cemetery there!

But the real purpose of our visit was not to see the facility. We wanted to find out about writing programs there, in hopes that we could help provide some liaison between the two institutions, especially as many of the Matsqui writers have occasion to move on to William Head. We knew that the inmates at WHI have been producing Out of Bounds, a small literary magazine for many years, so we anticipated that there must be some ongoing writing programs there.

The men were warm and welcoming, and seemed genuinely interested in meeting with us – we’re pretty sure they liked us for more than the Tim Horton’s doughnuts we brought. We spent the morning in dialogue, learning about the kinds of writing they’re interested in (everything from writing better letters to exploring fiction and poetry). But we were surprised to learn that currently there isn’t a writing program there.

Mary and I came away from our visit with a lot of new information. Both of us hope we’ll be able to get some meaningful workshops going at William Head, as there’s a group there that seems ready and willing to learn and to share.

By the way, there’ll be another writers’ retreat taking place at Matsqui this spring. If you’re a writer who’s interested in participating, please let me know. It’s an experience I’m sure you won’t soon forget.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


That's my acronym for the opposite of Not In My Back Yard. It's acknowledging that the problem is Right Here.

The local branch of our public library provided the space for a panel discussion on homelessness. The presenters, Judy Villeneuve, Sue Hammell, and Susan Keeping had plenty to say. Still each of them honoured the 5-minute time limit and kept their presentations brief.

Longtime city councillor Villeneuve offered the most in the way of stats and facts. MLA Sue Hammell referred to a number of interesting models for providing low-cost shelter, including the Portland Hotel Society. Susan Keeping, head of the Newton Advocacy Group and the presenter most involved in fieldwork, put a very human face on many of the problems, offering mainly anecdotal information.

Questions from the floor covered a huge range of topics, from rent controls to the need for public toilets. At one point I noticed one of our most well-known local homeless men peering in at the door. All I can imagine is that the size of the crowd must have frightened him way.

While it does sound as though the 'tanker may be turning' and that some important new initiatives are in the works (in particular, an Affordable Housing Trust in Surrey), I think all of us left with feelings of how fortunate we are, and also maybe some shame over how well we live.

I remembered a slogan a group of us made up in high school when we were members of what was then called a 'Christian action group' -- "I was hungry, and you formed a discussion group for me." I hope we are finally able to do more than just talk.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

50 ways to . . . (a rude interruption)

So much for my plan to accomplish 50 for 50 in only 50 days. I seem to have lost a couple of days to the dreaded gastrointestinal flu. Ack. Besides sleeping almost ’round the clock, I spent too much time in the smallest room in our house.

Thanks to ginger ale, I am coming back to life. Heck, I’m now even up to soup for breakfast!

My advice regarding this particular bug?

1. Don’t get it.

Apparently it helps if you DON’T shake hands with anyone, DON’T hug anyone, and DON’T share things that you put into your mouth.

2. Failing that, my fallback advice is to be sure you’re stocked up on supplies. If you get this flu, you sure as heck won’t be going out to do any shopping.

Back on track soon!

PS That 'smallest room' in the pic was Leon Trotsky's. Seemed apt!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

50 ways to . . .Part 2

When it comes to dealing with cold or windy weather, I’m a big wuss. Monday I’d planned to go in to Vancouver for what sounded like a great reading at the Robson Square series. And no doubt it was: Caroline Adderson and Jeff Thran. But no, the winds blew up, and I chickened out. So my list of seven Canadian arts-based events for this week probably sounds pretty lame. To be fair, I’ve classed a few of them as half-events. Here goes.

#8.0 (January 8) Even though I didn’t go to the reading, I found two television shows that displayed some quirky Canadian content. The first, another guilty pleasure, was a celebration of 40 years of Star Trek. Not only did this feature Canadian-born actor Bill (Can you say cheese?) Shatner, it was produced by Space TV. This Toronto-based group used a Star Trek convention (that took place in TO) as the focus of the program. Half-marks as an event worthy of 50 for 50, still.

#8.5 (Jan 8) I’d heard this promo’ed on CBC radio, and was glad I was able to find the Omni channel on my TV. Canadian journalist, Jonathan Roth, had himself a coup: an interview with Robert Mugabe the first in over two years by a western reporter. While Roth didn’t push Mugabe (in fact, the interview could be called ‘soft’), the piece offered insights about Mugabe I’d never known (his background as a Jesuit, for one). Mugabe avoided discussing the superinflation that's gone on his country (Roth cited 1100% a month!), and he sure as heck didn’t want to talk about his infamous “Operation Clean Filth” project, offering way smaller numbers of displaced persons than other sources have. Half-marks, I suppose as a 50 For 50 event, even though it’s great to see the art of journalism in action.

#9.0 (Jan 9) Again, the weather (This time, a dump of nasty snow which saw my partner having to take a crazily circuitous route home – over two hours for what is usually a twenty-five minute drive.) drove us to the idiot box. Only this time, television was anything but idiotic. The first half of Rick Mercer’s show featured a visit with Stephane Dion. His interview provided the most in-depth coverage I’ve seen since Dion was elected as leader of the Liberal Party.

#9.5 (Jan 9) After all the ads I’ve seen – on bus shelters, in newspapers, you name it – I had to see the first episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie. The opening was so bad, I nearly shut it off. ‘Talking head’ shots with each actor’s name. Really, the last time I saw that kind of opening set-up was probably on The Beachcombers. I made it through the whole show, and while I can’t promise I’ll stop by again, at least I know what the fuss (or lack thereof) is about.

#10 (Jan 10) More than ever, I regret not forcing myself to go into the city for the reading on Monday. I read Jeff Thran’s book, Every Inadequate Name. This guy writes great poems. Treat yourself, and buy it. Or at least get your library to order it, so you can check it out.

#11 (Jan 11) There’s still way too much snow on the ground for this to be Lotus Land. But since I had to go to the dentist, I bundled up and trekked uptown. Then, since I was there anyway, I stopped in at my nearest branch of the Surrey Public Library. The only art I saw there (besides their permanent piece, a sculpture by Arnold Mikelson) was some very colourful work by up-and-coming Canadian artists. Their work was bright and fresh enough that I had to take a photo.

#12 (Jan 12) Really, with this weather making me want to stay indoors, I thought this might be the day I’d have to take a break from this quest. But no, a Canadian artist found me! We’d rented a DVD, a Russian film called Dom durakov (House of Fools). Well, who plays a feature role? BC’s own Bryan Adams! It seems there’s just no getting away from Canadian art and artists.

#13 (Jan 13) Even though this is supposed to be Hockey Day in Canada, I’m not willing to stretch this list to include Don Cherry as Canadian art, though I suppose when it comes to cultural icons, he’s right up there with Tim Horton. To celebrate the day, I'll post a poem, which is (in a very small way) about hockey:

I just wanna marry
the Zamboni driver
he looks all reliable
a steady kind of guy

it really turns me on
the way he makes those zooming sweeps
perfect down the whole length of the ice
how he speeds it up so fast
pushing when he swings so tight
hard into the turn inside the corner

love his handsome face
riding high on that machine
wonder will I love him still
the game

#14 (Jan 14) Here I thought I was being so good, returning a book before it was due. Sheesh, but when I got there I learned that I had a video out -- and waaaay overdue! The White Rock Library doesn't yet send out 'almost-due' reminders (they're supposedly catching up soon on this), and they don't have a 'no-late-fees' policy. So here I sit with big fat fine, not feeling like going back down there. Whatever, it was fun to see that they have a new art show up on their walls, some lovely work by Akiko Michael. This photo doesn't do justice to the work's elegant simplicity. Too many reflections off the glass. But seeing the work made me glad I'd stopped in, despite the not-so-good seven-dollar news.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

50 ways to . . . Part 1

As part of its 50th birthday celebration, the Canada Council has challenged us to consume one tonne of culture.

No, that’s not quite it, but they have come up with a celebratory challenge. They’re calling it ’50 for 50’ and they want us to take part in celebrating Canadian arts – they hope we'll do this 50 times over the course of 2007.

So far, I’ve been finding this pretty easy. Here’s a list of some of things I’ve already done this year.

#1 (January 1) This slow-moving holiday allowed me the time to really read the Globe and Mail’s list of the top books of 2006. It reminded me of a book I’ve been curious about, Rawi Hage’s DeNiro’s Game. I’ve gone and reserved a copy of this from my local library.

#2 (Jan 2) I read Yvonne Blomer’s take on what life is like for a Canadian in Japan. Her book of poems, a broken mirror, fallen leaf, transports you there without any jet-lag. Best accompanied by a pot of hot tea.

#3 (Jan 3) I rented a DVD of a piece I hadn’t even realized had been made into a film: Douglas Coupland’s Souvenir of Canada. Not your usual home-viewing pleasure, but then Coupland’s no ordinary author. This exploration of his installation, Canada House, made me laugh and even made me think. (Odd note: the actor who portrays Coupland for parts of the film looks a lot like the young Svend Robinson.)

#4 (Jan 4) Sunny, though a bit on the chill side. Stopped into the Community Arts Council ’s nearby gallery and caught a preview of the new show they were in the midst of mounting, paintings by Hormozd Poorooshasb. A local artist, he is of Persian descent. His work is wildly colourful and I look forward to viewing it again.

#5 (Jan 5) A rainy day, so I spent part of the day curled up by the fire, finishing Hot Pursuit, a mystery written by Vancouver author Nora Kelly.

#6 (Jan 6) We tried going to the White Rock Museum, but it was still closed for the holidays.

Still, it was fun to go strolling on the pier. It seemed everybody had a camera in their hands!

I took a couple of shots of art I found down there:

-- some professional (the statue) and some by local school kids. How's that for Canadian art being everywhere!?

#7 (Jan 7) We celebrated Orthodox Christmas today. While we had brunch, we watched a video made at the Romanian Hall in Woodstock, Ontario. It featured traditional Romanian music and dancing. If you follow this link to Romanian tunes, you can even hear some Christmas carols. Romanian-Canadians sure know how to celebrate. La multi ani!

Let the Canada Council know what you’re doing to celebrate ’50 for 50’. Their address is

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Traditions

Although we have a few traditions, they always seem to shift. This year, though we had the traditional New Year's Eve fire in the chiminea, we imported a summer game into the mix -- our own brand of mini-golf. With the aid of my trusty putter, 'Golden Boy,' I held my own against the real golfers, George and Wayne.

Then, this morning, despite it being a very blustery day, tradition dictated attendance (as a viewer, not a participant) at the City of White Rock's annual Polar Bear Swim. There were a lot of swimmers, many of whom stayed in longer than I would have, even if it had been August.

Here's a shot of our friend, Christian, drying off after his dip in the big pond.
And following him is a picture of George, wishing everyone a very Happy New Year!