Friday, March 30, 2007

"Fed" up

I know you’ve all be dying to hear what I have to say about Quebec’s recent provincial election. Well, okay, here it is.

I’m tired. I’m absolutely tired and fed up with Quebec.

I’ve been around the boards and newspaper commentary areas and the whistling in a graveyard out there among anglophones is shrill to the point of deafening. So many of them are crowing about the rising star of Mario Dumont. Ha ha, they’re saying, the Parti Quebecois is dealt a mortal blow! No more separatists! Hurray for Dumont the federalist!

Yeah, except he isn’t. The guy is just one more Quebecois weasel who’ll do and say whatever’s going to squeeze the most sap out of Canada till the tree shudders and falls over. He was a front man for separatism in the 1995 referendum. He’s come right out and told us he’s not a federalist, but so many people want so much for this nonsense to be over once and for all that they just clap their hands over their ears and sing “O Canada” in French that much louder. Worse, he’s a conservative. At least the PQ were fairly left-wing. This chap leads that deep, quiet, but omnipresent strain of Quebecois nationalism that’s tied not so much to ideas and principles as it is to race. It’s not enough to speak French; you have to be French. White. Original stock; pur lein. That kind of thing. The Quebec of the backwoods that never really participated in the Quiet Revolution, but is asserting itself again. The ugly xenophobia that’s been building since multiculturalism robbed Quebec of its understood status as the other society in Canada. Now we have to deal with that. And you people are happy?

Look at this map. See those red areas? That’s all that’s left of Canada in Quebec. Anything in blue is practically foreign soil. You are not welcome there. You are not one of them. They do not want you there; they do not want to share a nationality with you. You are foreign. You are alien. You are either born one of them, or you aren’t. And if you aren’t, you can never be. And the dark blue areas voted for the ADQ. Why are federalists so happy?

I understand Quebec’s aspirations, and I’m not sure they can be realized within Canada. I wish they could, but there are limits, even in a federation. I think we’ve done a good job to accommodate them in recent decades, but apparently it’s not enough. I’m not sure the centre can hold. I hope so. But I’m not seeing any evidence of it. Quite the contrary. When I was a boy, Quebeckers voted for the same parties as the rest of us, at least federally. There was a separatist party provincially, and they did come to prominence, but at least on the national scene, they participated. That’s changed in recent years, thanks at least in part to Brian Mulroney’s ass-hatted, ham-fisted attempts to trump Trudeau and remake the Constitution in Quebec’s image. “I rolled the dice with Canada!” he trumpeted. Yeah, and lost. His party blew to smithereens for 15 years and gave birth to a separatist party at the federal level, and prompted the 1995 referendum that nearly carried the country off into the dustbin of history. Yes, thank you, Brian. Please go to hell, and soon.

All my life, and for several years before, English Canada has been working, consciously, to accommodate Quebec. Changing. Adapting. Asking questions, listening to the answers, and acting on them, at least as far as practicality allowed. And with every step, every turn, we’ve flung our arms wide, hoping for the embrace… that never comes. No, what follows is always one more step away from us, and the demand that we must take another step… and another… and another. But Quebec must never embrace us. No, to do that, to participate, to engage in this thing we’ve built together over centuries: that would be humiliation. Diminishment. Abject surrender.

I’m not asking Quebec to love us, and I certainly don’t ask or want them to kiss our ass and call it ice cream. But for God’s sake, 1759 was a long time ago. We’ve been on the same team for a long long long time now. Can’t you find a little pride in the uniform? The games played, the championships won (and sometimes lost)? Does it always have to be sulking on the bench, screaming to be traded, a free agent, while expecting all the perks of being on the team? That’s really, really getting old, folks. Honest. Yeah, we’re all tired of living with a reluctant roommate who feels free to help himself to whatever’s in the fridge but doesn’t feel the need to pitch in, help out with anyone else’s dishes, and expects everyone else to forgive him his share of the rent this month cause he had to buy a cool new stereo… that, of course, no one else is allowed to touch. And all the while, moaning about how hard done-by he is, and dreaming loudly of the day his family finally gives him his inheritance so he can move out to some glorious condo filled with mirrors, while shafting the rest of the household with the bills.

I’ve never had cancer… God forbid. But I have to imagine that in less lucid moments, having cancer as part of your body must be a little like having Quebec as part of your country. It saps your strength, taking resources from other organs, always demanding more as it grows and grows on what it’s already taken from you. You live in constant pain, and every waking moment is consumed with the knowledge that, sooner or later, it’s probably going to kill you. Except this cancer talks. It taunts you, mocks you, makes demands under blackmail. Tells you you’re abusing it, neglecting it, and that’s why it’s a cancer. It talks gleefully about how it’s one day going to spring from your body as a whole other being, while you drop dead without it. It threatens to kill you all the sooner if you don’t give it what it wants. There is no winning. No real bargaining with it. No satiating it. It will just take and take and take until it decides the time is right to finally destroy you in its own selfish interests. And people are celebrating the rise of Mario Dumont… a whole new tumor. A metastasization to other parts of an already troubled organ.

I’m tried of it. Tired of being scared, of making deals, of initiatives that not only go nowhere but are actually resented. How dare we try to pressure them by spending money to convince them we’ve changed, we like them, we accept, we understand? How dare you bring me roses and ask where I’d like to go to dinner? You creep. I don’t know… maybe it’s too little, too late. But damn it, I can’t help feeling that the effort deserves recognition. A kind nod of the head, even if it is too late and divorce is inevitable. But we don’t even get that.

So, fine. You want to go? Go. Just say so loudly and distinctly, without promising your kids they’ll have access to my bank book. Insure us free transit back and forth between Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, take your share of the debt and your share of all the federal infrastructure, planes, ships… and bon chance, mes vieux. Have fun setting up your embassies, your laws of cultural orthodoxy, your neo-‘White Australia’ immigration system to protect you from women in veils… And when you can’t pay the freight for your social safety net (sorry, the transfer payments end when you split) and your population rapidly ages and shrinks because next to no one wants to move to a Quebec without the advantages of being part of Canada, and when you can’t get imports in French anymore because 32 million virtual francophones nationwide the world would grudgingly service have been reduced to only six million real francophones who represent a market small enough to be told “like it or lump it; speak white”, and when it snows on what should be a beautiful sunny day in May, well… I know you’ll all still be blaming les anglais and their wicked, evil, Quebec-ruining ways, far, far into the future. It’ll be our fault for centuries after you leave, I know. It’ll never, ever be your fault.

Except it already is.

We tried. You didn’t. Adieu.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

And I will see my dream come alive

I've never understood those people who didn't like the original theme of Enterprise; folks who wanted one of those pompous, overblown, meaningless orchestral bowel movements like all the other Star Trek series from TNG on up. They've always been eye-rollingly, wincingly bad. But I'm sorry, guys... if you can watch the original Enterprise opening and hear those simple words and not feel the swelling of pride, a lump in your throat, and even mist up a little, hey... you ain't got nooooo soul. :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What flag? Our own...

In today's Globe and Mail, there's an article asking under which flag we should honour Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge was a huge battle in France in the First World War in which Canadian troops played the central role. It was a rare breakthrough victory, and it has often been said that Canada, as a nation, was born there.

So the question is asked, under what flag should these soldiers lie? The battlefield is, actually, Canadian territory. It was ceded to Canada by France — a gesture I have always found moving and wholly amazing. Protocol dictates that the only flag that can fly on Canadian federal territory is the Canadian flag... that is, the Maple Leaf flag.

The problem is, that was not the Canadian flag in 1917. At the time, the official flag of Canada, as part of the British Empire, was the Union Jack. But tradition of the day had made the Red Ensign, a red flag with a combined coat of arms made up of those of the provinces in the fly, and with the Union Jack in the upper left corner, the unofficial flag of Canada of the day. The Maple Leaf, the flag that we have come to know as ours today, wasn't instituted until 1965.

Some veterans are championing the 1917 flag as the one that should fly at Vimy Ridge. I can see the point, but I respectfully disagree for a couple of reasons.

First of all, while I recognize that Canadians fought and died under that flag, and that it meant a great deal to them, it was not really even technically the flag of Canada. It was never officially sanctioned; its use was merely a convention. More importantly, it is certainly not associated with Canada today. Anyone arriving on Vimy Ridge and seeing it atop the flag pole might be forgiven for assuming it was a battle site of the colony of Bermuda, whose modern-day flag it most closely resembles. "Canada" would certainly not spring to mind, especially in the absence of the universally recognized flag we have today. If this monument is meant to memorialize Canadian soldiers, it ought to first and foremost unequivocally identify them as such. A forgotten flag from a century ago does not.

Secondly, Canada is not just an object or a moment in time. It is a continuum, threaded through millions of lives and across centuries, that existed before them, was sustained through them, and continued beyond. Those men fought and died for a country that lives today. Its emblem to the world was declared, definitively, in 1965. This flag is the heritage of those men; in part, it exists as the result of what they did. They earned this flag. They helped make real the nationality that proclaimed and upholds it. Every Canadian, living, dead, or yet to be born or join us from abroad, has a right to have their flag upon that soil. It is no disrespect to the men who lie there that the flag of their country as it lives should stand over them, even if time has changed it. It stands as the banner not of dead men, but of the living pride they inspired, now and into the future. In fact, in denying these men the representation of the flag of their living country, we are saying to them, "You are something else; something from the past we have left behind. We do not recognize you as part of this living nation. By our choice of symbols, we divorce you from it. We relegate you to history." The idea saddens me deeply.

If it must be one or the other, then it must not be Canada as it was and is no more, but Canada as it is, and will continue to be.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A long train runnin'...

P-Doug and I met up again yesterday and went back to The Bishop and the Belcher. Towards the end of our sojourn there, I noticed they had some encyclopedia yearbooks on the shelf behind him. He hauled down the one for the year 1972. We read the section on Canada... we read Mike Pearson's obit and reflected on just how much the country had changed thanks to the changes he had (quite recently, back then) instituted... entirely for the better, in my opinion.

But what really caught our eye was a mention, somewhere, of Ralph Nader. A picture of him as a younger man, still fresh from his struggles with GM. The caption under the photo said that he was warning of a dangerous trend in the United States Congress to knuckle-under to the Executive branch, and forecast an increasing usurpation of congressional power by the Presidency.

This was 1972. Before Watergate had played out, before Reagan, before Bush-Cheney. It was like finding out Teddy Roosevelt had warned of a coming attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Jim Morrison, we hardly knew ye

A couple of nights ago I was at a professional meeting where someone left behind some books, free for the taking. I had a quick browse and noticed a couple of paperback volumes of poetry by Jim Morrison. I was intrigued; I picked them up.

What I know about Jim Morrison you could comfortably write on the back of a stamp, lick it, and never get ink on your tongue. Here it is: he was a rock singer with The Doors, he took drugs, he died of an overdose in Paris. I've heard something about how he saw a dead Native American as a kid and it did something to him spiritually, but I'm pretty vague on the details. Okay, maybe enough to get ink on your tongue, but just.

Subjectively, I know that I like the handful of songs by The Doors that I'm privy to. I rather like Touch Me; it's upbeat and kind of a departure from all the rest, except maybe Come On Baby Light My Fire... except Touch Me knows to leave the party while it's still welcome (I'll never forget hearing Light My Fire on the radio in grade 11 shop class in the mid-80s, when one of the metalheads finally begged, "Somebody shoot the organist...").

Anyway, I've started reading the poems.

My God. This guy is jaw-dropping. It's as though, 35 years later, his ghostly finger can reach down into me and press little buttons I didn't even know were there. Poetry is always a matter of taste, but wow, does Jim Morrison ever plug into me. Or vice-versa.

From the second volume, there's a poem from a collection called TAPE NOON...


you must confront
__your life
which is sneaking up
__on you
like a rapt coiled


you must confront
________the inevitable
Bloody Bones has got you!

This poem can be interpreted in so many ways. Is it about death? Some unattractive aspect of modern living? For me, it reads very much like a warning to an unborn soul, drafted to be conceived and delivered into life. The snake is phallic, snail-slime a metaphor for semen, and "Bloody Bones" the living body, flesh-wrapped bones, that will imprison the soul. Heaven knows what Jim may have intended, but I'm a deconstructionist... whatever you get out of it, you largely bring to it yourself, and this is what my mind fills this container with.

Listen to this from the very beginning of the first book, a "self-interview", as he characterizes it. This man was in his mid-20s when he wrote this; you'd expect this kind of clarity from a person much older. My parting comment on this score is Jim Morrison's own...

Listen, real poetry doesn't say anything, it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through any one that suits you.

...and that's why poetry appeals to me so much — because it's so eternal. As long as there are people, they can remember words and combinations of words. Nothing else can survive a holocaust but poetry and songs. No one can remember an entire novel. No one can describe a film, a piece of sculpture, a painting, but so long as there are human beings, songs and poetry can continue.

If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it's to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Heaven comes on Saturday

Saturday was a day with a perfect gold nugget at the centre of it, large and pure. It was one of those days when time seems to stand still for a little while and you know you’ll drift back to it from time to time the rest of your life.

Last week, P-Doug and I made arrangements to go downtown on Saturday. I made it to East York about 11:30 and we walked to Main Station and caught the subway. Interestingly enough, they’re working on the line so the trains are currently routed through the long-abandoned Bay-Yorkville station. We passed slowly through it without stopping, everyone peering out at a station almost never seen by the public, a kind of ghost platform that shouldn’t exist but does.

Most TTC patrons in Toronto never get to see this. It's an "abandoned" station on the Bloor line. I gather the original idea was to loop the subway back downtown using this station, but I'm told it was abandoned a few months after the line opened in the 60s. Maintenance work is going on on the line currently, so for the moment, the line is routing through (but, as you can tell from the quality of the shot, not stopping at) the lower Bay-Yorkville station. These days, it's mostly used for training purposes, and movie shoots.(Don't Say a Word, Johnny Mnemonic, and Mimic).

When this church was built in the 1870s, it was at the edge of town. Today, it's downtown. I've always been slightly fascinated by this church and I've photographed it a few times. It's the way the other building (a Hyatt hotel, if I'm not mistaken) wraps around it that gives it its presence. This is the Church of the Redeemer, one of Toronto's Anglican churches, and one of those on the forefront of the fight for the recognition of gay and lesbian rights. This church is on the north side of Bloor Street, at the east corner of Avenue Road.

Our destination was the Anglican Bookstore just south of Bloor at the very end of Hayden Street. I’ve only been there a few times, but it’s one of those places that really seems to soothe my spirit. I love being down there, among the books, peering into moral verities and the political tie-ins. President Carter’s new book suggesting the United States has lost its way in the world was on display, and I came close to buying it, but $30 plus tax was a little more than I wanted to spend… I’ll grab it when it comes out in paperback.

Taken on the way down the stairs to the Anglican Bookstore. "Your church name here!!!" I think this is funny. :D

We were there for perhaps an hour and a half… I lost track of time. I didn’t buy anything myself but P-Doug picked up a raft of CDs that were on sale. We left, walking along Hayden St. to Church St., where we’d noticed an intriguing pub on our arrival. It was called The Bishop and the Belcher…

It sounds kind of crazy to say it, but all my life I’ve wanted to find the “perfect” pub. Most of the ones I know have big screen TVs in your face showing the game, and/or they play music so loud you can’t hear yourself think let alone carry on a conversation, and/or they let drunks get their hands on the mike in that pure abomination called karaoke (people really should be ticketed for that)… they’re dark, noisy, the staff either won’t leave you alone or they’ll drop off a beer and then wait till your bones are bleaching before they ask if you want the bill…

The Bishop and the Belcher was none of that.

The Bishop and the Belcher
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate.
Taken on the way to the Anglican Bookstore. We ended up sitting in this window a couple of hours later.

We sat in the window, arranged at a 45 degree angle at Church and Hayden. It was overcast, having rained in the morning. We watched the world go by in the cool grey of winter traversing to spring, the people just coming out into the world again to reclaim it. There were board games on a shelf near us. Every table had a box of Trivial Pursuit cards, and P-Doug and I spent the time popping questions at one another while we ate curried meals and sampled a half dozen beers between us. Agreeable... highly agreeable music at a listenable level frequently interrupted our conversation… but only because we had to stop ourselves and pause to listen. The place was frequented but not busy; had presence but was not obnoxious. I found myself wishing the place were nearer my home… but then, it would have lost its sense of location down there at the edge of the downtown if it moved. So I found myself wishing I lived there instead. I’ve always been a 905er at heart, but there’s still a part of me that would love to live the downtown, walk-to-work, I don’t-need-a-car existence possible in a few cities in North America, like Toronto (although just barely in our case). And it’s for reasons like that; places like The Bishop and the Belcher.

Not exactly a perfect panorama, but AutoStitch choked on the four-shot spread, so I roughed it in Photoshop. And I do mean rough. But the idea here it to convey the quiet, simple loveliness of the scene, rather than make it look perfect. Besides, every once in a while, I think it's kind of cool to go with the traditional pano look. :)

Look at all the charming schmaltz from the British Isles (including the admonishments to suck down the Guinness in massive quantities next week). Ah, the Old Country. :)

Canadian money is pretty. :)

The cash is P-Doug's. I paid my $35 using my bank card via Interac.

When I settled the bill (and yes, they took Interac), I told the staff that, for what it was worth, I thought they had the best pub in the city. It was just one of those perfect moments that lives forever in your heart and your mind.

Isn't this what Iraq's been treated to for the past four years or so? :)

This is underground at, or near (hard to tell exactly) the Yonge-Bloor subway station.

But hey... don't take my word for it...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Future generations of summer

Future generations of summer
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate.

Watch now and forever (Whereas...059)

Lords of the Lines

Lords of the Lines
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate.

Yeah, same to you

Yeah, same to you
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate.

HDR Resting Place

HDR Resting Place
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate.

Colour-accent nature walk 02

Colour-accent nature walk 02
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate.

February inconstant (Whereas...060)

Oh, man, does this shit never end?

An article in today's Globe and Mail points out that the divisibility... or indivisibility, depending on your point of view... of Quebec is in the public arena in that province again. This stems from the fact that there's a provincial election going on there and the Parti Quebecois leader, André Boisclair, has thrown the Hail Mary pass of promising yet another referendum on sovereignty if he wins. Like night follows day, the mantra of "if Canada is divisible, Quebec is divisible" rises.

I'm opposed to Quebec leaving (I think that goes without saying), and dividing Quebec as well if it does. It raises all kinds of incredible headaches. First of all, it would have to be achieved through negotiation: while Quebec is a province, its borders cannot legally be amended without its consent. Once it is a nation, we have no more jurisdiction over its boundaries than we have over those of the United States, or Mexico, or Namibia. And so if changes were to be made, it would have to be done by hashing it out with Quebec. The precedent of West Virginia is sometimes evoked. If the anglophones of Montreal and the Eastern Townships and the Cree and Inuit of Ungava don't want to quit Canada with Quebec, shouldn't they be able to secede from it (Quebec) to remain (in Canada), given that Quebec itself has set the example? So goes the logic. And I suppose it's sound, at least that far.

Where I see real problems arising is the next logical step. If Quebec is divisible by negotiation, doesn't it follow that rest of the country is as well? What about the francophone parts of Ontario and New Brunswick adjacent to Quebec? Long abandoned by Quebec as "warm bodies", what if they saw this as their chance to recover their patrimony instead of living under the (supposedly) benevolent largess of English Canada? What about Labrador, long coveted by Quebec but awarded to Newfoundland? If the Cree and Inuit of Quebec can leave they province they're in, what about other First Nations vis-a-vis the provinces in which they find themselves? Where does this end?

With Quebec. God forbid, but if they should choose to go, I say respect the boundaries that exist today; et adieu, mes vieux. Let it end there, and everyone adjust to those facts on the ground.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Happy belated birthday

I was just reading The Hell It Can't, maintained by a fellow in Rochester, NY, and on his blog he has an image saying "Happy Birthday Toronto 3/6/2007". Huh? So I zipped over to Wiki and, sure enough, he's right. The City of Toronto (formerly the Town of York) was officially established March 6, 1834. Now I feel bad. But it's nice to know somebody cares. :)

Forgive me, darling, forgetting your 173rd birthday and all... and allow me to say that you don't look at day over 160. :) You're so much younger since you stopped hanging around with that Orange Lodge crowd.