Monday, March 30, 2009

Post-apocalyptic fiction

Because I was away on holiday, I managed to accumulate quite a backlog of emails. Among ones I’ve found is a message from Abe Books about ‘end of the world’ fiction. Since I’ve always been a reader of post-apocalyptic novels, this was one bulk message I didn’t want to delete.

I agreed with quite a few of their choices – especially Earth Abides, one of the most memorable books of my life (apparently Carl Sandburg agreed with this assessment).

There were a few that I thought they’d got ‘wrong’ – like John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. Even though it might have served as inspiration for Jose Saramago’s Nobel Prize winning Blindness, I don’t think it fits the category of post-apocalypse fiction. A better candidate by Wyndham would have been his The Chrysalids, in which ‘mutants’ are outcasts in the prevailing day’s society. Their genes are wildly mutated by residual radiation from a long-past nuclear war, so I think this title qualifies better.

One of the writers they didn’t mention is John Brunner. And maybe that’s because his books aren’t so much set after a specific disaster, but rather in the midst of them. Stand on Zanzibar’s premise is overpopulation; The Sheep Look Up finds its threat in ecological disasters. Can you say topical? And I’m still pretty sure it’s one of those two books that sees police maintaining crowd control (people are standing in long queues for food) by distributing joints for them to smoke.

Another two books that should be on their list are Ronald Wright’s A Scientific Romance and Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker. Although Wright’s book is based on the trick of time travel, his images of grown-over roadways will always stay in my mind. Ridley Walker is a true one-of-a-kind. Not only is set in a far-distant post-acopalyptic future, it’s written in a ‘new’ kind of language. Although the book was written in 1980, much of its language seems similar to today’s texting, especially its use of numbers to mimic the sounds of words.

There was even an old school text, Z for Zachariah, which might well be worth a re-read.

Doing a bit of research on this genre, I’ve encountered a few more titles I’ll need to track down, John Crowley’s Engine Summer, Philip K. Dick’s Dr Bloodmoney, and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World . This last one presumes the polar icepacks have melted. But the oddest-sounding one of all is Bernard Wolfe’s 1952 novel, Limbo. These last recommendations are all thanks to a wonderful volume by David Pringle, Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels.

I'd love it if anyone could up with other suggestions in this thought-provoking genre. Comments with names are always the best, but if Anonymous can suggest a great book, I'm happy enough to know about it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Will observing Earth Hour make a difference?

Pollyanna-ish, I suppose, but I say yes, it will.

If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't recycle paper and plastic and glass. I also wouldn't remember to not run the water while I brush my teeth.

What other small things do I do? I make a point of picking up a piece of litter off the ground every day. Not huge bags of it, just one. And I don't always flush the toilet (unless there's a good reason to).

I like to believe all these small things add up. Hey, if everybody did them...

What I'd really like to think about though is instead of just observing Earth Hour, what would happen if on Earth Day we'd try going for a full 24 hours without using power? Now that could be a message even Steve Harper might notice.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It should be Pattie's birthday today

Wind Chime Woman
(for Pattie)

chittering wind chimes remind me
of you and our lonesomest times

how many nights did we spend together
banishing demons or men for each other

laughing or crying on my porch or yours, mostly
over cheques that either bounced or never arrived

so why didn’t you phone instead of going to that hotel
sitting it out alone on a bed for three crying days

and how did you ever find yourself so many pills so many colours,
how many drinks did you have to force down to work up the nerve to swallow

you knew that the maids would let you sleep in, not find you 'til afternoon
knew they all loved you and worried for you, saw how you tipped too much

but now I need to pretend, imagine you wearing your turquoise robe
picture your hair swirling red on the pillow, how you’d want it to look

and for once I hear no pounding nails or cutting lawns or
too fast trucks driving down this narrow street of ours

just the storm blowing strong
through the wind chimes

Monday, March 23, 2009

News that's new

At least to me.

Reading a newspaper was my treat of the day. As always, it's the columnists who make the paper for me. The Vancouver Sun's Miro Cernetic referred to this time we're in as the "Great Recession" although really what's so great about it remains to be seen. One of those oxymorons, I guess. But at least the term feels official, now that I've seen it in print.

The rest of the paper seemed full of happier news, the best being that Oslo, Norway has figured out how to fuel its transit system on recycled sewage. As of next year, buses there will run on methane from the treatment plant at Bekkelaget. There's a renewable source if ever there was one!

There were also several different pieces that all worked their way to the same conclusion: it's time that we decriminalize drugs. Just think, if Vancouver could manage this before 2010, there might be a whole lot less violence on the city's streets. There might even be some lasting reason for tourists to visit beyond two weeks' worth of games that no one seems able to get tickets for.

But of most interest to me is the 100 yuan challenge, started up by workers in Shanghai and Beijing. The idea is to try living on 100 yuan (about $18Cdn) a week. Over 100,000 people are participating so far. Of the results I've seen, the best ways of saving money seem to be by avoiding Western fast food outlets. Sounds like a good idea, whether you're trying to save money or not.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Old news

Just because it's old news doesn't make it any better. 

Being away means I'm slower in learning about what's happened. Usually, it's stuff that doesn't matter too much. This time, I've learned that four more Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. It seems extra weird that just yesterday I overheard a man singing that old song by Country Joe. The one that says, "One, two, three, four -- what're we fighting for?" Only when the 'Vietnam' line rolled past, I thought I heard "next stop, Afghanistan." 

Hmm. Maybe that wasn't a mis-hearing at all. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009


This morning saw a group of locals (and visitors, like me) joining up for a two-hour dance class. The session was led by Jean-Pierre, who clearly knows how to dance and still has the great moves, despite being 68.
Salsa was the main theme, but we explored a bunch of other dances too. As it always seems to go in dance or exercise classes, women outnumbered the men, so when it came to partnered dancing a lot of us were girl-with-girl. Waltzing and polka were easier than some.
Belly-dancing was the most fun; the tarantella downright annoying. Still, the workout was fun and made for a lot of good sweating. Ariba!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Angelfish on the beach

He was not a happy camper, flapping around sideways in the surf.

It was one of those very traditional days (is this what Mexico does to people?) where the men played horseshoes and the women went for a stroll. I'd brought my snorkel and mask, but no one else wanted to join me, so that activity was out. Face it, snorkeling in the sea is not a thing to do without a buddy.

While we females strolled our way down the sand, we spotted a frantic-looking flapping in the waves. An angelfish, clearly in distress. Rennie waded out and picked him (her?) up, trying to reorient him and get him back out past the breaking waves. Not much bigger than her open hand, he was a beauty -- silver with black zebra stripes. It was hard finding a picture similar to his kind, but if you click here, then follow down to the bottom right, you'll see one of his cousins.

For a while it seemed as though he might have made it, as he was swimming quite upright, little dorsal fin straight up as an antenna, so we walked on. But then, on our way back, there he was again, struggling. We tried a few more rescues, but finally gave up as a lesson from nature.

Still, I wondered: had we been a group of men, how might our behaviour have been different? Or would they have done exactly the same things we tried?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fiesta del San Patricio

Where better to be for St. Patrick's Day than a town called San Patricio!

Wearing our green T-shirts, we got into the car and drove over to the nearby towns of Melaque/San Patricio. A carnival, complete with rides and midway, was running full blast.
There was lots to see and do: foosball tents, Bingo games (but not like the Bingo most of us think of, I-19, O-64 -- more like 'travel' Bingo, just pictures -- of everything from roosters to the devil). There were medicine hawkers, boot vendors, even a rodeo. I enjoyed just looking at it all, snapping pictures. But that wasn't too hard to do, considering I was sipping a pina colada from a little clay pot while we strolled.
The most amazing part of the evening was the display of fireworks that ended the night. When we'd arrived, a group of men had been building a tower-like structure in the town square. A series of spinning explosives were arranged on the tower, so each would ignite in turn, one from the previous. The video will give you some idea of how this worked -- only lucky you, you won't have to worry about sparks falling into your hair!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Art is everywhere

Yesterday morning my friends and I went to Tonala and took a tour that let us meet artisans at work -- at a papier mache factory, in a glass-blowing foundry, and in the one-man studio of a very special potter, Salvador Vazquez. He carries on a technique developed over several generations of his family.

Today, we strolled around the square in 'our' little town. People from the village ran a little arts fair. There was a range of crafts (embroidery, pottery and jewellery) as well as samples of food and drink and glass beads and baskets. One of the gringas offered an interesting item that worked like an optical illusion. A spiralled piece of metal with a large marble skewered onto it. She called it a 'contemplato' -- maybe that's not the real name for it, but considering its slightly hypnotic aspect, it made sense.

Galleries seem to be everywhere. It's as if art is in the air.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A day for amazement

My friends and I have been wandering through markets and galleries and hearing music and generally being bombarded by culture.

But most amazing of all was the gallery we visited this afternoon, filled with the works of Sergio Bustamante.

It was as if a wind blew into my brain and rearranged the apparatus that shows me how to see the world. Definitely memorable.

Monday, March 09, 2009

International Females, Celebrate!

Where yesterday was International Women's Day, it seems a bit bizarre for today to celebrate the birthday of Barbie. Yes, that Barbie. The doll.

She's turning 50, but gosh, those tits of hers look perky as ever.

And here I thought this was supposed to be the age of reality. Or is it really just the age of the reality show?

C'mon, Mattel. I saw that picture you posted of Barbie sporting that head of shiny white hair. But hey, now that she's turning 50, how's about lowering the bar (or is it just the bra?) on that chest of hers? I understand she's getting tattooed soon to prove just how cool she still is. I wonder, will Ken's name be among the artwork she gets?

BTW, this link to International Women's Day may appear to be a bit unfriendly, but really there's a whole lot of great information. And despite appearances to the contrary, sign-in does not seem to be required. Worth a look.

And yes, I acknowledge the importance of today's birthday girl. Just think of how many girls first 'tried out sex' by smooshing their Barbie and Ken dolls up against each other.

Anyway, cheers to you, Barbie. You're holding up well, though I'll still never understand how you can bear to keep standing on those itty-bitty tippy-toes all these many years. Ouch, but happy birthday to you. And many more.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Punktuation Rules!

Okay, so I'm kind of a nerd. But was yesterday ever fun - I was in a whole roomful of like-minded nerds.

The occasion was a seminar sponsored by our local branch of the Editors' Association of Canada. Led by Frances Peck, we spent the day considering (and arguing about) punctuation and mechanics. If I've already lost you, you're probably not an editor. But if you are still with me, consider some of the wonderful things Frances said.

She reminded us that punctuation marks help us navigate our way through sentences, indicating pauses and also helping us make connections. She used phrases like "maintaining syntactical interest" and employed beautiful words like "idiosyncratic" - and best of all, she offered the important-to-any-editor caution that hyphens might drive us mad, describing those small black marks as "the mosquitoes of punctuation."

Goofy-sounding to a non-editor? Probably. But did I learn a lot? You bet!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Black and whites on display

Last night saw an opening at the local Community Arts Council Gallery. They change the art displays every month and this month there's work by Tatiana Saydak and Chris Mackenzie. The show for March is an array of small sculptures in company of a room full of black and white photographs.
That's Chris Mackenzie, in front of some of his work. His photos, all taken with film - no digital work here - included images shot with infrared film.

Because I'm always uncomfortable taking photos of somebody else's photographs, I can only say I was impressed enough by his work to buy a piece. If you want to see his work, you should go to the gallery - or failing that, visit his website. Ones he's featured as 'peeks' for this show are some interesting results from long exposures at night time. Definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Perception Shift

I have a thing about numbers. I like certain ones more than others. Sometimes this is based on associations with birthdays or other events. Sometimes my reasons are more superficial – when I fix on a number for the way it looks.

Thinking about numbers displayed on the clock, I’ve always loved the tidy lines of 11:11. And next best has always been its shorter cousin, 1:11.

But today, with three more Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and the number of deaths there now jumping to 111, I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking differently when 1:11 shows up on the face of the clock.

Instead of admiring the shape of the number, I'll be viewing it as three red soldiers standing tall. And I’ll be thinking of three men – Warrant Officer Dennis Raymond Brown, Cpl. Dany Olivier Fortin and Cpl. Kenneth Chad O’Quinn.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Writers who don't retreat

These are some of the writers who took part in a writers' retreat at Matsqui this past weekend. Only, I always have to question why these sessions go by that name. I haven't noticed these people retreating from much.

Most of the other participants aren't in the picture because they couldn't come out to the parking lot to stand beside that lovely wall. And no, that isn't because it was raining and they were afraid of getting wet. They didn't come outside because they aren't allowed. You see, Matsqui is a federal penitentiary.

So, who are these writers? They're poets and playwrights and novelists and short story writers. And why do they do this? Well, why does anyone volunteer for a cause they feel passionate about?