Friday, April 27, 2007

I'm sorry to hear that... or maybe I'm intrigued...

Wednesday night I was out with friends at a Mongolian restaurant. At the end of the evening I went up to pay with Interac, as is my usual practice. While I was there, I happened to glance at the credit card slips and there on one of them was one of those once-in-a-decade names. As God is my witness, I beheld the follow at the bottom of one:


I was burning to take a picture of it because I thought, no one will ever believe me… but I would imagine restaurants don’t take kindly to guys photographing signed credit card slips, so I didn’t. All I could think, though, was that I sure hope this guy — whose name probably means something perfectly normal and unobtrusive in Mandarin or Cantonese — didn’t have to go through high school in an English-speaking country.

Would have been one for the books on, though, I tell yah what. :)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nerdy dreams

I've had a couple of weird dreams lately. I don't ordinarily remember my dreams... if I can recall three in a year I'm doing above average, it seems to me. But I can remember a couple from just the last few days.

The first was rather surreal. I was out in the countryside and I stopped my car at the edge of a two-lane highway (by that I mean, one lane each way), with trees on one side and an wide open area on the side on which stopped. It was overcast, a little windy, threatening a storm. But I got out because I'd seen what looked like the remains of the old road surface. Anyone who's glanced over this blog knows I'm a sucker for lost roads. I got out to explore it and photograph it. I was in shorts and a t-shirt, walking along it barefoot; after a few moments I came to where a driveway crossed it, adjacent to a large, comfortable-looking farmhouse with its attendant buildings. There beside the ruined cement of the old road (just a few yards from the current highway) was a woman in late middle age. She seemed to know who I was and was both amused and perturbed. It turned out she was the wife of former Ontario premier Bill Davis (aside: I have no idea whatsoever to whom Bill Davis is married or what she looks like, but I would imagine that she’s older, whoever she actually is). She sort of invited, sort of insisted me in, and so I followed her into the house, where some kind of gathering of friends and family was going on. I was introduced to a 50-something version of Bill Davis, who again seemed to know who I was and, again, met me with mingled irritation and amiability… it’s hard to describe. It seems he was aware of my criticisms of his decision to kill the Spadina Expressway, expressed on this very blog in rather blunt terms. Naturally, I was embarrassed, but it was pretty quickly set aside and he spent time explaining his reasons for his decision. I don’t remember what they were, but I do remember understanding them, if not being persuaded by them; I guess we agreed to disagree. Eventually we joined the party, lively and friendly despite the gloom inside and the storm outdoors. Even though I was an outsider, I felt oddly connected to it all, a natural part of things.

Sometime this morning, I had another dream. I was back in my university days in a class somewhere. The class shifted to a pub setting (I remember a professor taking us to the campus pub on his last day before retiring; it always struck me as so delightfully adult and European). The professor was being heckled by someone else in the pub, and I and a couple of others began to take umbrage. Our professor seemed to have morphed into a woman without anyone noticing the change, and when the lout began making obscene passes at her, I and at least one of the other students attacked him. I remember hitting the guy on the head with the carved oaken leg of one of the pub chairs; he was hurt and bleeding and fought his way out. I realized what I’d done and fearfully resigned myself to waiting to be charged with assault, though it seemed right to have chased the guy off, and someone said the guy probably wouldn’t involved the police for exactly that reason. I woke up, anxious, and relieved it was only a dream.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dreaming of Home (Vimy Ridge rededication)

Yesterday, Easter Monday, 2007, was the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Vimy Ridge… at least in Canadian terms. Canada’s most impressive war memorial is to be found there, towering over the lush plains of northern France.

I don’t work for the government — which is another way of saying I was in the office yesterday — and missed actually seeing the ceremony live. I would really have liked to. God knows, I would love to have been there. But I did set the DVD player to record it, so I got to review it when I got home.

To be honest, I wasn’t really paying close attention. The French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, was there, as was our prime minister, Stephen Harper, and Her Majesty the Queen. The first half hour was pretty much just getting everyone in place, and then the speeches began. The prime ministers spoke first, and then the Queen. As you might expect, they said wonderful things about the heroism of the men who died there, the gratitude of France, and the solidarity of Canada, France, and Britain. The words were moving; it seemed heartfelt, none of it over-the-top in the way of previous generations… I think we’re too cynical these days to be truly effusive. I was working in Photoshop at the time on the photo you see here, one eye and one ear on the screen, the other on what I was doing. It was weird… it was as though I were standing on one of the balconies of the building, listening to the speeches being given in the forest below; that’s how it formed in my mind...

When the speeches were over, there came this moment when music began. The tune was familiar… I realized later I’d heard it in the movie Joyeux Noël, about the Christmas armistice of 1914. The song is called, I think, “The Fraternizers’ Hymn (I’m Dreaming of Home)” in English. At first, just the melody, as I recall. Then men of the Canadian Armed Forces gave the song voice…

I hear the mountain birds
The sound of rivers singing
A song I’ve often heard
It flows through me now
So clear and so loud
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

It was taken up by two or three dozen young girls in a choir from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. They were joined by Susan Aglukark. It pulled my attention utterly from what I’d been doing, and just overwhelmed me. I can’t explain it. The longing of the song, the idea that they were speaking for all those men so long ago; it made them very immediate. Big tears started to spill from my eyes as I watched and listened; it just came up out of nowhere so suddenly and easily it was frightening. I felt like I was standing on that balcony watching all this, feeling the yearning for home those young soldiers must have felt, the desire to be anywhere but where they were, aching for the love, familiarity, and security of a home many of them would never see again. I was reminded of my Dad, who served in the Navy for twenty years, and how proud I’ve always been of him, and how hard it’s going to be someday to lose him (if I live long enough… you never know)... that feeling really cut into me.

The song ended with a magnificent shot of a long line of army trumpeters, facing the monument soaring in alabaster into a featureless sky of perfect azure. At that moment came a thundering fly-past by four Mirage jets of the French Air Force. By this point, I was actually crying. I had to turn it off. It completely swept me away emotionally. The only other moment in my life I can remember being so spontaneously carried off was when I was 17, stepping out of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill just as the bells of the Carillon began to play high over my head, and the sense of Canada as something that existed before me and would endure long after me really struck home for the first time, and stood there in tears for a quarter of an hour. Like that, this was a strange, terrible, wonderful, singular moment that will be with me all my life.

I did finish the photograph. Suddenly it became the symbol of home that all those men, Allied and German alike, were fighting for, dying for, yearning for. In some small way, it’s for them. I hope they’re all home now.

I’m Dreaming of Home
by Gary Lewis / Lori Barth

I hear the mountain birds
The sound of rivers singing
A song I’ve often heard
It flows through me now
So clear and so loud
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

It’s carried in the air
The breeze of early morning
I see the land so fair
My heart opens wide
There’s sadness inside
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

This is no foreign sky
I see no foreign light
But far away am I
From some peaceful land
I’m longing to stand
A hand in my hand
… forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Canadianism

Today I was introduced to a whole new Canadianism, this one having to do with ordering coffee at Tim Horton's... to wit:

"Double-double, cream only."

Resulting mind dialogue: "Uhhhh... would that be 'double cream'"?

"Uh huh."

"So you want me to order double the cream, double the sugar, hold the sugar."

Either that or the other double was shots of whisky or something. That would explain alot.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Creepy cameras

Now this is just creepy. England is weird. I mean, Orwell wrote 1984 there, but this still seems to appeal to them. I know, I know, I know, cameras are everywhere these days, but I find the idea they're taping me at the ATM a lot less disturbing than the idea that some government-appointed Jiminy Cricket is staring at a monitor waiting to shout me down if I pick my nose or don't excuse myself after burping. This crosses a line for me.

From the Beeb:

'Talking' CCTV scheme expanding

Talking" CCTV cameras that tell off people dropping litter or committing anti-social behaviour are to be extended to 20 areas across England.

They are already used in Middlesbrough where anyone seen misbehaving can be told to stop via a loudspeaker, controlled by control centre staff.

Home Secretary John Reid has earmarked nearly £500,000 to add speaker facilities to already-existing cameras.

Critics say the cameras are absurd and an intrusion into everyday life.

Mr Reid told BBC News there would be some people, "in the minority who will be more concerned about what they claim are civil liberties intrusions".

"But the vast majority of people find that their life is more upset by people who make their life misery in the inner cities because they can't go out and feel safe and secure in a healthy, clean environment because of a minority of people," he added.

The example they give:

1. Pedestrian is spotted leaving can on bench.
2. Talking camera: "Please fetch your can."
3. Talking camera: "The bin is behind the phone box."
4. Talking camera: "Thank you for using the bin."

How it ought to go down:

1. Pedestrian is spotted leaving can on bench.
2. Talking camera: "Please fetch your can."
3. Though morally a douchebag, pedestrian exercises his free choice and gives camera the finger.
4. Assholes all around, but a blow for liberty is struck!
5. Next time, pedestrian realizes he was being a jerk and "bins" the can on his own. Hopefully.

Montrez-moi l'argent

Folks, I've figured it out. This whole Quebec 'fiscal imbalance' thing? Solved. Listen: all Quebec has to do to suck more mon— uhhhh, to alleviate the aggregious injustice is simply to open a chain of convenience stores across Ontario and start 'selling' lottery tickets. Et voilà!

Mr. Marin said the lottery corporation has introduced some measures to better protect consumers since his office launched an investigation last October, following a CBC television program that alleged that more than 200 ticket retailers or clerks won prizes of more than $50,000 in the past seven years. But well before
the fifth estate
program, the corporation was only too aware that it was easy for its retailers to steal winning tickets, the report says.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Sam, don’t help!

[A small, quiet room, containing a few chairs and a table at which an Iranian man is seated. A door opens, and two Anglos enter.]

John (sitting at table, reaching across to Hassan): I’d like to thank you for agreeing to see me today.

Hassan (shaking hands with John): It is my hope that we can resolve this issue between us… uh… who is this gentleman with you?

John: Oh… um… that’s Sam.

Hassan: I don’t understand… why is he here?

John: Well, he sort of insisted. Just got in the car when I was heading over.

Sam: Listen, Hadgi—

Hassan: My name is Hassan, actually…

Sam: When you mess with John, here, you mess with me! Got it?

John: Sam, please. You promised.

Sam: Just watchin’ your six, Johnny.

John: I appreciate it, but it might help if you were to sit down and try to be pleasant.

[Sam sits, folds his arms, scowls at Hassan.]

John: Now, as I understand it, you feel that some of my crew were on your property…

Hassan: Your people are everywhere, John. If I don’t take a stand, no one’s going to respect my property. I mean, are they?

John: I understand that, old chap, and you’re perfectly right about that. It’s just that my crew are adamant that they did respect your property and the fellows you have hadn’t—

Sam: Hand ‘em over, ragtop! We’re not telling you again! Next time we’re talking with knuckles, dig?

Hassan: Who is this man?

John: Sam, please, this isn’t constructive!

Sam: You want constructive? How about I use my boot to construct a shoeshine box out of his ass?

Hassan (rising): I feel that we are finished here…

John: Hassan, please, wait! Sam, for the love of God, shut up! You’re not helping!

Sam (sitting, fuming): Cripes, John, you didn’t actually check your nuts at the door, did you?

Hassan (sitting again): Perhaps the dialog would be more fruitful if your friend were to wait in your car.

Sam: Plenty fruity already, I’d say.

John: Sam, I’m trying to get my boys home to their families. Please. I appreciate your support, but it’s not your place to involve yourself.

Sam: I don’t need your permission anymore, Your Majesty. For nothing. Remember that.

John: Yes, how could I possibly forget. You make me watch The Patriot every time I come over.

Sam: Masterpiece of historical accuracy.

Hassan: Perhaps you gentlemen could first come to a consensus and inform me when you’re ready to talk with one voice.

Sam: We’re ready to talk anytime you like, towel boy! Just ask your neighbours!

[Hassan leaves.]

Sam: Are you just gonna let him treat you like that? That guy has no respect for you, you pipsqueak! No respect for you at all.

John: I wonder why.

Tune in next time when Sam borrows billions of dollars from Chang and Kenji to kick Hassan’s ass, same stupid time, same stupid channel!