I thought that I knew Paris well. We spent the first year of our marriage living in a sixth-floor walk-up apartment in the Second Arrondissement just off rue St. Denis. In l988-89, during a sabbatical year as a family living in La Vallée de Chevreuse, the lush green “Silicon Valley” to the west of the city, we were in Paris at least weekly. During that year, I drove all over the city and I didn’t think twice about showing the sights to my parents and their friends who were then in their early seventies.
But I have never visited Paris as a senior… and that makes all the difference. What a culture shock that has been. The city has certainly changed in the thirty years since we last lived here. (I’ll talk about that in another post.) More importantly, I have changed. Now approaching 75 years of age (which is only late “middle age” in the current era), our recent visit to Paris has taught me much about myself, and the perils of travelling as one ages.
First, I find it much more difficult adapting to change. It’s harder to travel, and takes longer to settle into a new environment, and to feel comfortable in new situations. Secondly, there are practical perils of big cities which I must recognize and learn to deal with for my own protection. Paris may be no different from any other big city but, for these purposes, it is the city which has made me personally aware of the challenges imposed by aging.
The biggest peril is falling. I have not had a problem with falling in the past. On this trip, I fell four times. Twice occurred in the same spot on the sidewalk to the nearby RER station, with no great consequences. The friends I was with the second time realized that I had tripped on a defective grate in the sidewalk. The third time was a major tumble on the sidewalk where I walked every day. This time, I was preoccupied with our conversation, stepped into the gravelled tree well of a tree lining the sidewalk and took a major tumble. I hit my head, broke my glasses, and suffered cuts and bruises to my face, hands, wrists, arms, and knees. Some stranger had to lift me up off the ground. The fourth fall was getting onto a bus on the tarmac at Frankfurt airport on our way home. I tripped on the entry to the bus, falling on all the injuries from before. Fortunately, I broke nothing. Probably one of the few advantages of being plump. (My brother, a family doc, once commented that the Canadian Health Care system would save significant resources if seniors could be bubble-wrapped. My bubble-wrap must be built in.)
My husband is the official “faller” in our family. Whenever he falls, he breaks something. He has gone through a series of tests over the years to diagnose the cause of his falling and has used a cane to aid his mobility for at least the last year. He had three falls in Paris, two not particularly serious, the other when he fell in the door of a brasserie, had to be lifted up by someone in uniform, and suffered sufficient injury and indignity that thereafter he ceased most sight-seeing.
Now, I am using a walking stick regularly, and am trying hard to concentrate on where I walk and how. I’ve learned that the sidewalks of Paris are remarkably uneven and that any construction (which seems as all-pervasive there as elsewhere) causes major changes to the surface of the sidewalks and roads nearby. I’ve learned that trees and the areas in which they are planted can be hazards, and that publicity posters can be dangerous distractions. The huge crowds of people who fill the sidewalks in the touristy areas and the popular museums are moving quickly and constantly jostling. The public transit system is full of steps, long corridors, and publicity which distracts from the need to pay very close attention to where I am going and what I am doing.
When I was younger, I used the Paris Métro with great joy and abandon. Now, I think twice about the nature of the transit I am going to use and the qualities of particular lines and stations. Which stations have escalators and moving sidewalks? Which stations have long steps to climb? Which exits will help me avoid the crowds? Or shorten the distance I have to walk? (I will do my next post on the Paris Transit system.)
Visiting museums and attending events has become a real pain. There are long lineups for security inspections and then to purchase entry tickets. Unless you like standing in a slow-moving line in the heat for long periods of time, it is necessary to pre-purchase museum tickets. There is a variety of Paris Museum Passes available, including ones for two, four and six days, which give priority access. I bought mine on the spot at the Paris Tourism Office located in the Hôtel de Ville. One can also buy passes and tickets on the internet. My friend bought hers from home and traded the voucher she received on the internet for an actual pass when she arrived. It is not necessary to have printed tickets. One can also use priority entrances by showing tickets that are stored on one’s smartphone. The bottom line, however, is that you really need a smartphone and to know how to use it.
Even with priority access for tickets, there is still the need to stand in the security lines. Security lines exist everywhere; most are reasonably efficient, but they do require standing with no place to sit down. And, at the Louvre, for example, the line outside the Pyramid entrance is in the hot sun. When one visits a particular museum or monument now depends on how long the security lines will be at any given time of the day.
As for the museums themselves, in the summer, they are very crowded, so much so that one feels no desire or ability to see what the museum has to offer. Too often, the museums have very few places to sit, and are full of steps to climb and rooms that have been closed “for renovation.” It is remarkable how poor the cafeteria and restaurant facilities generally are: few and far between, hard to find, under-staffed, with slow service (made worse by the fact that almost everyone uses bank cards to pay).
The Louvre, for example, prides itself on its “accessibility for the disabled” and its Museum Plan. After standing in the hot sun to get through the security line, I was invited to take a small elevator downstairs to the entry level. I visited the Disability Office to get a plan of the Museum and find out where everything was. These were welcome surprises, harbingers I thought of a good visit ahead.
Alas, not true. The Louvre was by far the worst of all the museums I visited on this trip. I found it impossible to find the elevators, and staff hired to provide “information” gave contradictory directions. The elevators that do exist are small, old-fashioned and dreadfully slow. Too many escalators were out of order. Signage was totally inadequate. I soon discovered that reading room numbers high above from a distance conflicts with my need to use reading glasses for the identifying information provided in the Museum Plan. In one area of the Museum where many of the rooms are empty for renovations, there was no advance notice of a dead-end corridor which required everyone to retrace their steps back through many rooms already seen. The restaurants and washrooms were lamentable and totally inadequate for the millions of people who pass through the Louvre every year.
Better to go to a smaller place which is less popular. I will never again go to the Louvre, even though the “Medieval Louvre” with its original foundations built in 1200 and 1385 is one of my favourite spots in all of the city. Were I to return to Paris, I would gladly revisit Le Petit Palais with its permanent collection of art owned by the City which is spacious, quiet, free of charge and has lots of places to sit. Or the Rodin Museum with its lovely gardens. Or even the Musée de l’Armée which has been modernized, and offers commentary in several languages and lots of movies (inherent places to sit). Or the spectacular new L’Institut du Monde Arabe with its banks of modern elevators and plethora of comfortable white leather sofas strategically located throughout the gallery.
As an older person, my priority has become my personal well-being and safety. To enjoy a museum, having places to sit has become important, to appreciate the artefacts, rest and, most importantly, to avoid falling. Having a readily available restaurant or café, without long lineups for payment, is a necessity to satisfy medical needs and prevent dehydration. These are new criteria to think about when travelling.
In recent weeks I have experienced the wonders of cataract surgery extended to correct myopia. Like so many I know, several dates with the ophthalmologist, two remarkably short visits for surgery at the highly efficient Kensington Eye Institute, a rigorous regime of multiple eye drops every day, and voilà: almost instantly, I can drive without glasses.
It is amazing what I now see. Street signs appear as if in large font primary print. Left-hand turn prohibitions are now legible. I now notice how the traffic is proceeding (or not), three or four street lights ahead. I can drive down Don Mills Road which is unfamiliar to me and still scan the signs of all the passing plazas looking for the one remaining Tilley store in Toronto. My command of the road and navigating the passing environment has never been better. It’s clearly time to get my driver’s license, which requires that I wear glasses, changed.
Apart from the luminosity of what I see, the detail I now notice makes me realize how much I missed before. I never appreciated, for example, that there were old-fashioned triple street lights lining the sidewalks along Bay Street beside the Manulife Building. Or that many downtown buildings have elaborate murals at the skyline. Or that the wooden fretwork on the chancel at Trinity-St. Paul’s Jeanne Lamon Hall is as elaborate as it is. Or that the fur on the tail of my black cat has a textured pattern that I didn’t know existed.
Of course, there is a downside to this new-found visual acuity. I now see cobwebs on the ceilings, plaster which needs repair, paint to be redone, and many other defects of an old house which I blissfully avoided up until now. Clearly, replacing my eyes will entail new costs for home repairs.
Having the eye surgery has been a learning experience. With one eye fixed, and the other not, I took one lens out of my glasses (the first one I’d had surgery on) and assumed that using the glasses with the other, I could read and work on the computer. Alas, that was not the case. With one eye corrected and the other not, I could read if I held whatever I was reading up close, but the distortion between the eyes made working on the computer very difficult.
Now that both eyes are fixed to improve my distance vision, I must adjust to the need for reading glasses. Before I wore glasses all the time and never thought twice about it. Now, reading labels in the grocery store, the program at the theatre, menus in a restaurant, and even the Globe and Mail is impossible without reading glasses. No big deal, you say. Everyone needs reading glasses once they hit forty. Maybe.
But there are strategies to consider. Some people carry their reading glasses on a cord around their neck. My husband, who had this surgery a couple of years ago, has at least a dozen pairs of reading glasses he bought cheaply at the local pharmacy. But he is always looking for them, never seems to have them when and where he wants them, and they are always breaking.
I’ve decided that it will work best for me if I invest in a couple of decent pairs of better fitting generic reading glasses which I can leave permanently located beside the computer and another in the kitchen where I typically read the newspaper. A friend also advised me to wait until the second eye is totally healed and then invest in a good pair of reading glasses which are bifocals (with plain glass on top) to carry around with me in my purse. I have also learned that, with an optometrist’s prescription, my favourite optical shop on College Street can likely fit bifocal lenses into one or more of my old glasses frames, and that the frame of my old prescription sunglasses could be recycled for reading glasses.
Cataract surgery (and the related opportunity to correct other vision defects at the same time) is one of the miracles of modern medicine. Commonplace, but oh so effective in improving our quality of life and public safety.
I met Mujeeb at Costco before Christmas. He was pushing a dolly which held a half-dozen deep grey plastic bins, some more full than others. When I asked him what he was doing, he explained that he was filling orders for an on-line computer shopping site. He was using an iPad to keep track of the orders. Apparently, people choose what they want to buy on the website. He is their personal shopper who fills the orders and later delivers them. He told me the name of his company but I have lost the note on which I wrote it down. (I should have used my iPhone “notes,” as I normally do to record such information. Perhaps I was so excited about meeting Mujeeb that I forgot.)
Sensing that he might be new to Canada, I asked where he was from. He replied that he was from Afghanistan, and that he had come to Canada with his parents and his siblings. I told him about my son and daughter-in-law in the Canadian army who had deployed several times to Kabul and/or Kandahar. He told me that all his family were now working in Canada and that his sister was a student at the University of Toronto. He also told me that there was a book written about his family.
No kidding? I had vaguely heard of a book written by CBC journalist, Carol Off, about an Afghan family whom she befriended and had helped come to Canada. Apparently, four months post-9/11, Off was in Afghanistan gathering information for what later became a very successful CBC documentary. Among her most significant sources at the time was Mujeeb’s father, Asad Aryubwal, who provided her with information about war crimes by Afghan warlords. His forthright cooperation with a western journalist however came at a cost. After numerous threats to his life, he had no choice but to flee to Pakistan which, as the political circumstances continued to change at home, he did four times before he was forty. In the fall of 2007, Off learned that Asad needed her help. Contrary to customary professional journalistic practice, she felt she had no choice but to become involved.
Needless to say, I rushed off right away to find Carol Off’s book, All We Leave Behind: A Reporter’s Journey Into the Lives of Others (Random House Canada, 2017). Reading it was a revelation, a totally compelling view of how a single family dealt with the turmoil in their homeland and their seemingly-interminable seven-year wait for permission to immigrate to Canada. Off’s description of their travails will break your heart.
This book is an absolute must for everyone who wants to understand what it means to be a refugee from a society such as Afghanistan.
Carol Off now co-hosts the CBC Radio current affairs program, “As It Happens.” Several weeks ago, this book won the prestigious $40,000. British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Jury members praised it as “a timely memoir that offers both context to, and a closeup of, uncomfortable truths: the failures of the West’s involvement in Afghanistan, the hurdles confronting refugees who seek safety in Canada, and the dilemma of a combat journalist expected to maintain professional distance from her sources.”
It’s a wonderful book. The Timeline of Major Events and the Cast of Characters at the back of the book are in themselves an invaluable thumbnail guide to Afghanistan’s history. I am thankful that my chance meeting with Mujeeb brought his family’s story and this book to my attention. I wish them all the best.
Dear Mr. Crawley, Publisher and CEO of the Globe and Mail
Thank you for your “Dear Reader” letter in today’s Globe and Mail (Saturday, December 9, 2017).
I appreciate your explaining the extraordinary circumstances which afflicted your première edition of the new GM. You and your staff must have been horribly disappointed. That the edition which so attracted my ire was a “one of” is good to know. I am also interested to learn of the efforts made to improve the journalistic standards of the GM, and the design goals you seek to achieve.
Two caveats. I would have more impressed if you had not printed your “Dear Reader” piece in such a light type face. I found it very hard to read. Is your relationship with your readers at this very important time of your transition not as important as the key news stories you choose to report using darker type?
You indicated that you have “bumped up the size of the type in your sports scores and stock listings.” I find your choices for immediate action very telling. Am I wrong to assume, in the reality of our contemporary world, that sports scores and stock listings are still of interest primarily to men? And that Bay Street is your most important lobbyist?
It’s not the justified lines that matter. For my demographic, it’s the fainter typeface. Implicit in your choice of a lighter or darker type is your assumption about what is important and what is not. When I have to strain to read what you publish, my reaction is that you consider that particular item less important to your readers. Your assumptions may not coincide with mine.
I look forward to continuing my “feedback, interest and support” in the future. Just don’t make it so difficult that I don’t enjoy it. At my age, if it’s not fun, I don’t do it. As Robyn Doolittle’s front-page story on “The Unfounded Effect” is in a darker type, I should have no problem reading and analyzing that for a future post.
The Effervescent Bubble
For thirty-two years, the self-styled Daughters of Hoyle, also known as The Sisters of Precious Little, have been getting together. Usually for a weekend in early November, it is a highlight of our year. In the past, we have come from Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto to a rented cottage where we can enjoy the autumn colours, somewhere in Prince Edward County, on Amherst Island, on Rice Lake, or in the Rideau river system of eastern Ontario. Once we met at Mary Ann’s home in Kingston; another time at Janne’s cottage near Minden. Two years ago, we ventured further afield, for four days in New York City. This year, we’ve spent five days at my “cottage” in Vancouver.
Three who met as “mature students” at Queen’s U. law school added me, the fourth, from Osgoode. We are all under or near five feet tall (except for Janne, a.k.a. “Stretch”) and we sport navy blue shirts emblazoned with “Daughters of Hoyle” in red print on the back. When we walk the streets together, we sometimes attract questions.
Mary Ann is a dedicated activist who fills us in on current causes. Knowledgeable about music and skilled at modern technology, she chooses the playlist which sets the ambiance. Peggy, who spends three months each year in Costa Rica and the rest visiting her large family around the country, putters in the kitchen. She makes sure that everything in the refrigerator finds its way into one meal or another. Janne, the artist, scouts out the latest exhibition or craft show we must see at the galleries. This year, I have luxuriated in the fact that my eastern friends are visiting in Vancouver when the sun is shining by day, there is a full moon by night, and a fresh fall of new snow on the North Shore mountains.
So what do we do? Each year, we pick up where we left off the last, as if we have never been apart. We talk, and talk, and talk, about all the things going on in our lives. We’ve been together through illness, death, family break-up and divorce, the care of children and of aging parents. We talk about the idiosyncrasies of the profession, politics, books and movies, our friends and families, our hopes and dreams. We drink lots of wine, although we are switching to water with various additives as we age. Mary Ann lays out a tray of fancy cheeses, spicy spreads, patés, prosciutto, smoked oysters, and crackers for snacks. This year, we’ve fed on chicken and salmon dishes prepared by Janne, Peggy, and me, and have felt absolutely no desire to eat out. Peggy’s Eggys with spinach, avocado, and prosciutto are the best Eggs Benedicts around. In New York, we ordered in and shared Thai fare with the night staff at the tables on the ground floor of our little Hell’s Kitchen hotel. They said that this was their first experience of Thai food.
We listen to music, walk the local paths, and see the sights. If there is a church bazaar around, a bake sale or a craft fair, we will find it, and shop for treasures. In rural Ontario, our Saturday lunch is often a traditional pre-Christmas tea in a church basement, the tiny sandwiches and familiar sweets a nostalgic reminder of times past. In Wakefield, Ontario, we once caught their traditional pie auction and, after tasting the samples included with admission, we left with a winning pie. In New York, we walked the High Line in bright sunlight, had lunch at the Chelsea Market, and, after seeing the wonderful play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, stood at the stage door, to meet the actors. This year, we caught a show of portraits from the Queen’s collection at the Vancouver Art Gallery and, on Saturday, hit the bustling Flea Market at West Vancouver United Church, and the craft fair at the community centre across the street.
Once dinner is done, we settle into playing cards. I come from a birth family where playing cards was a favourite pastime. In my eastern life, I never play cards except with the Daughters of Hoyle. On my first weekend away with them, when we were sole occupants of an historic cottage at Isaiah Tubbs resort in Prince Edward Country, Mary Ann set up an easel to help teach me the proper names of the suits of cards. If I was going to play bugger bridge, I couldn’t bid calling one suit “broccolis” and another “shovels.” The next day that same weekend, we played cards on the rocks of Sandbanks beach in the hot November sun, a memory we often recall. This year Peggy brought along the “Five Crowns,” a five-suited variation on rummy. No matter what game we play, or how hard we play it, Janne always seems to win. Playing cards is good for serious strategic planning, acting out latent aggressions, and hearty laughs which sometimes leave us in tears.
At the end of our time together, we set the date for the next year and talk about suitable venues. Long may the Daughters of Hoyle continue to meet.
On October 24th, I joined the masses gathered on Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, to honour Gord Downie by singing his songs. Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman (aka “DaBu”), the founders in 2011 of the weekly drop-in singing group, Choir! Choir! Choir! in Toronto, organized and led what was a communal hootenanny. Most everyone knew the music and lyrics by heart; the rest of us sang along using words we’d downloaded from the internet. It was a very stirring event.
I went because I knew so little about the man and the band which has become a national phenomenon. I needed to fill the gap. The Tragically Hip is a familiar name. When they played the Dawson City Music Festival years ago, I knew that my sister had hosted the band in her home at the after party. Gord Downie’s actions, since his diagnosis with a brain tumour in December 2015, quite properly made him a national hero. I admired the Secret Path graphic book and also the album designed to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic escape from an Indian Residential School, and promoted on the Hip’s last national tour. All proceeds from the Gord Downie/Chanie Wenjack Foundation go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
For all that, I knew very little about Downie’s music over time; neither the tunes which made him and the band popular nor the lyrics which often read like poetry. I’m not alone. I’ve since learned that many of my cohort are equally oblivious to the impact he had on younger people, especially on those now in their late thirties or forties. People like the Prime Minister.
I now appreciate why his work has been so appealing. “I am a stranger… on a secret path,” the lead poem/song on his Secret Path album, released in tandem with the graphic book, is haunting and emotional. “Bobcaygeon,” where he “saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time,” resonates among those who know the north. “Ahead by a Century” speaks to who he was and what he stood for. “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Wheat Kings” speak of that which is familiar in ordinary life: “Bourbon blues on the street,” “hands in the river,” “Sundown in the Paris of the prairies,” “wheat kings and pretty things wait and see what tomorrow brings. “Late breaking story on the CBC.” “You can’t be fond of living in the past, Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last.” “Courage” sings of the human condition: “No simple… explanation for anything important… . Any of us do and yeah the human… Tragedy consists in… the necessity Of living with… The consequences Under pressure. Courage… it didn’t come… it couldn’t come at a worse time.”
Mike Downie spoke to the crowd about the Downie Chanie Fund. In Gord’s honour, Don Kerr adapted “Fiddler’s Green for Gord.” The lyrics can be downloaded online. Beautiful.
Our fifteen-year-old clunker, a 2002 Nissan Sentra with only 118,000 kilometres on it, finally ran into the ground on the July long weekend. There was a terrible racket from underneath the car that turned out to be a heat shield dragging on the pavement. A minor repair maybe, but we had long ago agreed that we would not put another cent into it. I called the Kidney Foundation and a few days later, they towed it away, providing me with a $300 charitable donations receipt.
We mined Phil Edmonston’s Lemon-aid New and Used Cars and discovered a new class of vehicle which we did not know existed. It’s a CUV, a crossover utility vehicle, which is smaller than an SUV and apparently very popular. That the seats of the car are higher off the ground is a huge advantage for seniors with mobility issues, and apparently there are now all sorts of safety features that will prevent crashes. We considered only two vehicles: the Nissan Rogue and the Toyota RAV4. Ultimately, we settled on the Toyota because I wanted a hybrid.
I made an appointment on the internet to test drive a RAV4 hybrid first thing Tuesday morning. The local Toyota dealership was only a short distance away by streetcar. When we arrived, the young sales rep showed us the exact model we were interested in and, within an hour, we became owners of a new RAV4 hybrid he would deliver to our home two days later. On delivery, the sales rep spent an hour and a half explaining how the car worked, and then left us with the car and two thick manuals. Undoubtedly, this was the most expeditious car purchase we have ever made.
Buying is easy. Learning how to use it more difficult. Three and a half months later, the car is still a continuing revelation. Keyless, the car door opens when we approach, so long as we have the fancy fob (worth $800 if lost) in pocket or purse. It took me several days to realize that, locking it, requires two taps on the door handle that will activate a light on the mirror to tell me that the car is actually locked. And although it is clear that one has to depress the brake before pushing the ignition button, the car is so quiet that we have on occasion forgotten to turn it off. Once, several hours after we last used it, a neighbour knocked on our front door to tell us that our car parked on the street still seemed to be running. Even yesterday when I was outside the car, the lights were still on and the door would not lock, and I couldn’t figure out why. Only then did it come to me that I had forgotten to depress the ignition button.
Then there is the gear shift lever. Whenever we put it into reverse, the camera appears on the master console screen with yellow and red lines showing where our car is in relation to cars behind it. The yellow line is apparently the trajectory of our car. The red line is the point at which I would actually hit the car behind. Gauging how those lines reflect the reality of the space required for parallel parking has been a challenge. But I’m getting the hang of it, finally. It even beeps a warning if someone or something should cross my path behind.
The warning beeps, and the flashing lights, are marvellous. So long as the various safety features are turned on, the lights on the mirrors will flash when a car, or sometimes even a bicycle in a bicycle lane, is passing in my blind spot. Or when I am drifting out of my lane on the freeway. If the beeps or lights come on, I now know to pay attention. Something is wrong; my job is to figure out what.
For all the wonderful safety features of this new car, the Master Console Screen is terribly distracting. It will take us forever to understand all its features, but already we are learning. We have more or less mastered the Audio; endless radio choices, SiriusXM if we knew why we should subscribe to it, and my entire music collection accessible by merely inserting a computer stick into the USB port below. And, just to make sure that we are fully informed, the screen identifies each program and each piece of music we hear.
As for the Apps, the Navigation feature has already proven invaluable. Tap in an address and a map and a friendly voice will give directions. Maybe even several options, with times and distances, for how to get there. How we are to evaluate the routes, we doen’t yet know. But we’ve already learned several things:
- The system will not allow us to tap in a new destination when the car is moving. Apparently that is a safety feature to prevent distracting the driver.
- The directions for the downtown core must be taken with a grain of salt. Often we know better than the system how to get from our home to the Gardiner expressway, for example. To its credit, the system adjusts to the route we actually choose to go.
- On the highway, the directions are usually right and we second guess the system at our peril.
- I must become more tolerant when the voice mispronounces local street names. The fact that AI is not perfect, I should consider some consolation.
The Telephone App is a light-year improvement over the dashboard cradle which used to hold my iPhone in the Sentra. So long as the smart phone is in my purse, it apparently connects by Bluetooth to the console screen. Phone numbers magically appear on the screen. Those numbers we use regularly are now installed for instant access by touch. And I’ve discovered a button on the steering wheel which I can push to activate a personal assistant who will call someone else on my Contacts list or find coffee shops, gas stations and restaurants nearby. All I need to do is think up something for the assistant to do and, voilà, the call is made or the results appear on the screen. Talking so easily on the telephone in the car is a new treat for me and I love it. As for the computer searches for nearby restaurants, I have to steel myself not to look at the results while driving alone. That would be dangerous.
Learning not to be distracted by the Master Console Screen is a major challenge. At first, we were endlessly fascinated by the colourful image which shows the flow of power in our hybrid from the gas engine and the battery, and back again. Trying to figure out what conditions cause the operation to change, and how that affects gas mileage, was an initial preoccupation which we have given up. I now just rely on the gas gauge showing the mileage to the next fill-up. It appears somewhere in the second set of information windows behind the steering wheel itself. Those are controlled by a toggle on the steering wheel which has multiple functions that I am gradually learning how and when to use. I wish I could just read the manual and assimilate all its info, flat-out. Alas, that’s not my learning style.
Last week, my husband looked up how to turn on the heated steering wheel and the heated seats which were supposed to be in this car. In the past, he scoffed at such amenities. Not any more. He likes the heated seat, even in warm fall temperatures. He says the warmth reduces the pain in his back. And the heated steering wheel? All the better to assuage arthritis in aching fingers and wrists. Who would have guessed that our new car, as well as being a fabulous new computer (perhaps more properly a mirror for my computer), was also going to be a new mode for therapy?
This could be the last new car we ever buy. Just as well. Learning how to use all its features may well take us a decade.
I always think of September as the beginning of the new year. And so it is. A new school year, new activities for the kids at school and in the community, a new subscription season of films, music, theatre, new shows at the galleries, new courses to take, new routines at the gym, new projects at hand, new holidays to plan in the months ahead. The days are cooler, the nights are crisp, the sky is clear, and the leaves are changing into glorious fall colours. It strikes me that the best season of the year is at hand.
To my mind, the Jewish community which celebrates its High Holidays, both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at this time of year has got it right. Rosh Hashanah marks the first and second days of the Jewish year, which begins this year at sundown on September 20th and continues through nightfall on September 22nd. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the day when God is said to inscribe the fate of each individual in the Book of Life for the year ahead. Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” is the holiest day of the year, which begins the evening of September 29th and ends the evening of September 30th. Depending on how Jews have sought forgiveness for any wrongs they may have done in the previous year, God “seals” the verdict for the year ahead on Yom Kippur. Not being Jewish, I am envious of this annual ritual of reflection and renewal. It strikes me that Jews start off their new year on the right foot.
Lacking a religious holiday to mark the season, I love to celebrate the many late summer and September birthdays which bring so many of my family and friends together at this time of the year. This holiday in Vancouver has been a wonderful example. John Lane, Dianne Slimmon, Cathie Percival, my husband Bill Irvine, and I began the festivities with a delightful lunch a week ago Friday at the Shaughnessy restaurant in Vancouver. Located in the VanDusen Garden, it is a beautiful venue, naturally lit and artfully designed to help guests enjoy good food and extended time together in peace and quiet. Birthday cake number one, for me and for John.
The next night, it was a birthday cake number two for me and for Bill Hall who was celebrating his 70th. He and his wife Carol threw a marvellous dinner for their closest friends in The Palmer Room, at the Northview Golf Club in Surrey. What a magnificent evening it was! The Palmer Room is a quietly elegant restaurant with lush plants, lavish chandeliers, a white fireplace, live piano music, and window walls that show off the view beyond the patio and the rich greens of the two eighteen-hole golf courses. The panorama is of fountains rising high in a chain of ponds, fields of farms in the distance rich with summer produce, and, on the horizon, a band of mountain tops silhouetted in black against the changing colours of the sunset. An absolutely glorious west coast mountain view.
Apart from the ambience, the menu was stunning. I had simply superb salmon lox with herb cheese, capers, crostini and micro greens as an appetizer and a melt-in-the-mouth prime rib roast to die for. Others had rack of lamb, filet mignon, duck breast, jumbo prawns, and a cioppino of halibut, salmon, scallops, prawns, mussels, in a tomato based broth. Bill and I had red velvet birthday cake; tiramisu and lemon cheesecake were other dessert favourites.
Birthday celebrations are such fun. As we grow older, celebrating who we are, that we are still here, and that we have dear family and friends around, becomes all the more important. Bonne fête, tout le monde, whenever your birthday might be. And to all our Jewish friends, may you be signed into the Book of Life.
Billed as the “Ultimate Urban Travel Photography Workshop with International Award Winning Architect, Urban Designer and Photographer, Rick Hulbert,” this four-day workshop held in Vancouver last week was one of the most intense and engaging learning experiences of my life.
I’d taken a workshop with Rick years ago, while he was still working as an architect. It had been very useful and relatively laid-back. I jumped at the chance for a repeat, with a focus on my hometown. After all, blogging about Vancouver is one of my favourite themes, and improving my pictures would make future posts all the better.
Retired from architecture for more than a year, Rick now teaches photography all over the world. From his professional background, knowledge of art history, and interest in the rapidly changing neurosciences, he articulates his (perhaps revolutionary?) philosophy of photography with unbridled passion. His lectures are amazing. His own photographs used to illustrate his points, awesome. He answers all questions with equal grace, no matter how technical, controversial, or simple (as many of mine certainly were). Post-course, students receive a copy of his key point visuals, which relieves the pressure of taking notes and focuses student attention on what he says and does. Conscious of what each student wants and needs, he ensures everyone equal “one on one” time. It seems that Rick has become the platonic ideal of a photography teacher: rigorous, thoughtful, constantly learning himself, and downright funny to boot. No wonder he is in such demand.
The ten participants in the workshop were photography enthusiasts: devotees of camera clubs, journalists who use photos to illustrate their stories, a hip sound man who is a sports photographer wannabe, a busy father of four who somehow fits serious photography into his work/life balance, some who have already sold their pictures, at least one a computer tech. I was by far the least photo-experienced of the group. The workshop promo said to come and “share your skills with others.” Everyone did, most generously. One, with a camera similar to mine, helped me with my settings. A second showed me how to set up and manipulate my new tripod. Another told me that I could press the button in the corner of my iPhone screen and take pictures without even opening the phone. (I blush to admit, I’d never used that feature before. How could I have missed it?) He also showed me how to download photos onto a USB stick, an essential task in sharing photography (and much else) which I had never quite mastered. Even before the workshop began, I’d learned these two new skills which will undoubtedly change my life.
The promo material promised that the course was “all about taking your photography to the next level.” It warned, however, that “you need a camera that you know how to use” and that you should “read the manual that came with your camera so you will be familiar with its features.” Easier said than done. Since creating my blog, my handy-dandy iPhone has been my camera of choice. But I knew that showing up at a Rick Hulbert workshop with only an iPhone was not on. I bought a light-weight, mirrorless camera two years ago but, out of sheer laziness, I’d used it only in Intelligent Auto mode. “Read the manual.” Are you kidding? Manuals are for techies. It takes a long time to become familiar with all the features on the contemporary camera computers we can now buy, and I hadn’t used my “new” camera for at least a year.
Fully aware that Rick doesn’t teach “Camera Operation 101,” I scheduled some lessons before the workshop to learn how my “new” camera worked. I also started to use my early morning walks for photo shoots. I thought I was ready to go. But, to go “to the next level,” in my case, was a really big leap. Rick recommends shooting in Manual and Aperture modes, and primarily in RAW file format. That’s a totally different thing. Manual mode I had forgotten. Shooting RAW files, I had never done before. I had no idea what impact this would have on how I used my camera. On Day One, I floundered big time.
That day Rick lectured in the morning. After a late lunch, we did a “hands on” walk-about over the Georgia Street Viaduct, down Main Street, and then along the waterfront to the Science Centre and the Olympic Village at the east of False Creek. It was less than a two kilometre walk, a glorious sunny day, and we stopped often to practice what Rick had taught us, and for him to make suggestions. His promo had said that we would learn what to wear on a photo shoot. I did! And it was definitely not what I had on: a black Icebreaker sweater, a wool sweater-coat and a new camera bag too small to hold all my gear. The next day, I jettisoned this attire and came more properly outfitted. That aside, around 4:00 p.m., in the shade of a patio near a bakery, Rick talked cameras and lenses with the more experienced photographers. They were on a short break while awaiting the change of light to continue the photo shoot into the evening.
Into the evening? How do they do it? I realized that I had to pace myself. Feeling a bit of a wimp, I took my leave, rode the Aquabus to the Plaza of Nations, and found my way home. I don’t know when I have ever felt so tired. I was utterly exhausted. Why was I so sore all over? What happened to my much-vaunted energy and the fruits of my physical training? Who knew that photographers worked so hard?
Day Two was another intensive session when Rick explained his principles for successful photography and we applied them to our pictures. In “Image Review” with Rick Hulbert, we saw a master manipulating Adobe Lightroom to improve the RAW data files we’d taken. Apart from teaching us about light, how to see, what to look for, and how to get what we want, “re-visualization,” as he calls his post-production editing, is an essential tool of the modern digital photographer. He made sure we knew how Lightroom works and why we would use its many features. Day Three was a lecture on street photography, a film, and an afternoon photo shoot on Granville Island, including another walk-about to unusual sites only a photographer like Rick would notice. Day Four was an early morning (6:30 a.m.) photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the harbour, with another full day of “Image Review” to further embed our skills.
After four days, others in the group were fading and even Rick admitted that he too was tired. No wonder. He gives out 100% all the time, and then some. It’s true that many of the activities he offered on the last two days were optional. But who wants to opt out when Rick is at hand to share his expertise? I may not yet be able to apply all I have learned, but I now understand the lingo and have the basic concepts firmly embedded in my brain. There is no doubt that I am many levels higher than when I started. Everyone rises to expectations, right?
So, how to rate Rick Hulbert as a teacher of photography? A+++ He more than delivers on what he promises, with the caveat to potential students that he deliberately pitches his program to make the best possible photos. “Learning by doing” is the name of the game. Nothing is more effective. Rick teaches a theory of photography which will stay with us forever. And the attention he pays each student makes it like a master class in photography. Listening to more experienced photographers teaches much, by osmosis. Just remember to get lots of sleep and exercise before the workshop begins, bring a water bottle and some trail snacks to keep you going. And tell your family in advance that you will be late getting home for dinner.
***** The uncaptioned photos are my RAW files of data, “re-visualized” with the help of Rick and the group.
My husband went to extraordinary trouble to bring us the blessings of an extended stay in Vancouver. Now that his care (and mine) is in place, he is exercising every day, taking charge of planning and cooking our evening meals. and using his walker to shop for groceries and visit local eateries. He appears to be making good progress. For all the tribulations, our extended stay in Vancouver is bringing us many unexpected benefits. Just to list a few.
- The rain which depressed even me February through mid-April has now stopped, the sun is shining, and the cherry and plum trees, magnolias, and early rhodos are in unbelievably beautiful bloom. At their peak, they are breath-taking. I never would have guessed that our local community here was endowed with such a splendid display.
- Living here, grounded, without any possibility of touring elsewhere, has caused us to use the resources and the merchants of the local community as never before. It’s been an eye-opening “welcome wagon” of new experiences.
- We live next door to the West Vancouver Memorial Library, but have hardly used it in the past. This week, the Library Foundation streamed, live and free of charge, the 2017 TED Talks which other people paid big bucks to hear at the downtown Vancouver site or in selected theatres. I happened upon a session on “Mind, Meaning” at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and was awestruck by what I heard and saw. Lots of material for posts there.
- I have now spent much time with the WVML Information Librarian. When I asked for a couple of books that were out locally, she told me that they were available at the Vancouver Public Library downtown, and that I could pick them up there and return them here. She also did a computer search of recent Globe and Mail book reviews to find an essayist whom I wanted to read but whose name I had forgotten. Once she had identified the author, she put me on a waitlist for both her books which are now on order. Undoubtedly, these same services are available at the Toronto Public Library. I just have never used them before. My loss.
- The proprietor of the local Kerrisdale Camera Shop referred me to Advanced Digital Training in North Vancouver where I have had two simply superb private lessons on how to operate the mirrorless compact camera I bought a couple of years ago. Utterly intimidated by the complexity of what is effectively a very sophisticated computer, I have hardly used the camera all this time. Peter Levey at ADT is an enthusiastic and gifted teacher who has made my camera accessible. Next week, he is going to show me how to organize and manage my photo files, something that I should have learned years ago but never did. Finding Peter, and working with him, has been a real coup.
- Last night, my husband and I went for turkey dinner and all the trimmings at the spacious Garden Side Café at the Seniors’ (over 55) Centre nearby. Run by volunteers, the café serves breakfast and lunch every day, and full hot dinners twice a week, at a very modest cost. My husband, who has avoided the Seniors’ Centre until now, even conceded that it was a good meal, that the company was congenial, and that the dinner menu for May looks more interesting than he would have expected.
- Walking on the Seawalk, the people I run into at about the same time each day are beginning to become friends. As my Sixth Floor Caregiver friend has told me, these early morning walks come with all sorts of benefits, apart from the exercise itself. Among other things, I suspect that these new friends will bring some great stories to inspire future posts.
- Last week, one of the texts for the writing program I am starting this summer arrived unexpectedly early. This single book is a revelation which already is making the rewrite of my first book go better and faster. With a regular routine and few distractions, my writing is on a roll. I now think it likely that my forthcoming book will be published this year after all, thanks in no small measure to my husband’s broken kneecap.
- As a couple, we have been slow to think of ourselves as “seniors,” an illusion now shattered. We are coming to realize that dealing with the medical issues inevitable with aging requires proactive thought and a modicum of grace. Achieving that, or not, may well be a measure of character, part of “growing up.” Those people who have met the challenges of medical issues all their lives set an example. They are the experts in how to relate to and benefit from the health care system. We’d do well to emulate their courage, resilience and their joie de vivre, no matter what comes. Maybe this is one of the secrets to successful aging. And to successful living?
Three weeks ago my husband suffered a kneecapping. His injury was not a malicious wounding as the I.R.A. and the mafia historically imposed on those who’d earned their ire. No. His was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill broken kneecap sustained from a simple fall on the hard cement sidewalk near our local grocery store. Nothing could have been more prosaic. The results, however, have been a life lesson for both of us.
When he fell, he also hit his head and nose on the cement, splattering blood all over and alarming the shocked onlookers gathered around him to help. An ambulance took him to the Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. Two hours later, he was released. The good news was that he had no concussion and no broken nose; the bad news was that his kneecap was broken and he had to wear a velcro leg stabilizer to keep his leg perfectly straight until it could be seen by an orthopaedic surgeon. Six days later, he saw the surgeon who ordered day surgery for the next day.
That Friday, he was last on the list to have his knee cap wired, stapled, pinned and stitched together, as only surgeons can do, and was told to keep the leg straight in the velcro stabilizer for six weeks. When we left the day surgery unit, it was 9:30 at night, the lights in the ward were low, all the beds but that of my husband were empty, the intravenous poles were herded together for the next day, and two staff (nurses or aides, we had no idea) were behind the desk. When they finally pronounced him fit to leave, they rolled him down to the car in a wheelchair, he pulled himself and his prone mended leg into the back seat as best he could, and we headed home.
We left the hospital as proverbial babes in the woods. The hospital provided a set of crutches, a prescription for painkillers (which only made us recall with horror a previous very negative experience with side-effects of high-powered opioids), and instructions to schedule a post-op with the surgeon two weeks hence. We had planned a return to Toronto by that time; obviously that was not going to happen. We had no idea what would happen, nor what we would be required to manage.
The past two weeks have been a crash course in “Basic Care 101.” Part A: for the caregiver, and Part B: for the care receiver. Although we did not know it at the time, our first big mistake was leaving the hospital (probably due to the late hour) without any referral to an Occupational Therapist, Home Care Assessor, or to the Red Cross (which apparently loans all sorts of medical equipment to people recovering from hospital stays, all on referral from the hospital or a doctor). We had no family doctor on the west coast, and no referral for that, either. We had to manage as best we could, by trial and error, as the situation evolved.
We soon ditched the crutches and rented a walker, bought a raised toilet seat, and set about to make my husband as comfortable as possible. In a totally understandable post-surgical stupor, strategically sedated with painkillers, he developed bedsores, a bad sign we thought. The remedy? “Keep them clean,” and “Cover them with Mepore pads,” said the pharmacist who sold me a half-dozen dressings. A friend brought some Tegaderm film she had used to good effect for her long-deceased mother years ago. The bed sores healed as my husband became more mobile.
In the meantime, an 89-year-old neighbour who lives on the sixth floor and who has been a full-time caregiver for her wheelchair-bound husband for the past three and a half years, gave me the telephone number (604-215-4700) of a publicly accessible nurse whom she assured me is “always helpful… even in the middle of the night.” That we had a phone number to reach some medical help if necessary was immensely reassuring.
Our biggest mistake was our failure to buy or rent a “Bed Assist” that would help my hubby get up from his bed and onto his walker. Who would have guessed that it would be so difficult? First, I was the ballast as he grabbed the walker to pull himself up. That was difficult and hardly confidence-building. Then, we tried arranging cushions beside him in various configurations to act as risers. That was better, but a nuisance. Ultimately, our next-door neighbour, well into her nineties, who uses a walker, demonstrated on her own bed how she uses her upper arms, wrists and fists to push herself up and how she places her head to get the necessary momentum. If she can do it with such agility, so can my hubby. After two weeks, we finally rented a “Bed Assist,” a curved bedside bar attached to two long metal anchors that go between the mattress and the box spring. Problem solved, at least in the bedroom. Getting off cushions piled on the chesterfield in the living room still requires some care. Getting out of the back seat of the car, using the seat belt and the door for leverage, requires the strongest possible strength in the upper arms. Where are those strong shoulder muscles and biceps when you need them?
At first, we were in a state of shock, overwhelmed by our frequent miscommunications, my husband’s justifiable fear of falling again, my expectation (which he didn’t initially discourage) that I needed to do everything, and our clear incompetence. Neither of us was sleeping at night, except with heavy-duty sleeping pills which were running out. When our dishwasher was overflowing with suds just as the new cleaning woman arrived (because I had used the wrong detergent), that was the last straw. The mistake reflected my state of mind.
It seemed as if this event was a foretaste of the future. Would this mean we’d have to sell our Toronto house (if only to get rid of the steps)? Or give up our Vancouver cottage (because our primary health care providers are in Ontario)? Must I abandon my writing, just when I’m on the verge of learning what the craft is all about? Apart from the love and devotion caregiving requires, the professional skills involved and the constant attention are bloody hard. I know the statistic that caregivers often succumb before the person they care for. Being a caregiver is a high-risk occupation.
All that has now changed. A friend who is a professional social worker invited me for coffee, gave me space to vent and shared some practical referrals she could recommend from experience. I have now visited the walk-in clinic she suggested, and had excellent service for my own needs. The doctor sent me to a local LifeLabs where I can get access to the test results myself on the internet. We saw the surgeon for a post-op on Wednesday and, as well as having the staples removed and proclaiming the knee nicely on its way to healing, he gave us all that we asked. We had a long list: renewals of sleeping pills, written orders for physiotherapy, a referral to the Red Cross for medical equipment, and a date for the next visit.
The physiotherapist from local community health came Thursday, showed us how to manage the brace, what exercises to do, which furniture adaptations and equipment additions would work best, how to install new shower heads… altogether a most helpful consultation. On Friday, we secured from the Red Cross Loan Program a shower stool and a tub transfer bench, two possible means to get proper showers. That same day, we plugged into a Home Care Service for a personal service worker or attendant who can help my husband with his bathing routine. And my hubby never even complained. Truth be told, we both came to exactly the same conclusion about our mutual needs at the same time.
Our neighbours, who are nearly twenty years our senior, carry on their caregiving and their personal health challenges with relentless good humour and energy. Who are we to complain?
My hubby is feeling better; he wants to get some exercise, and resume cooking. He has ample time to browse the cookbooks (one of his favourite past-times), can push his walker around the grocery store as he does his shopping, and can manage cooking in the small confines of our galley kitchen. Already he has bought dozens of exotic spices so he can cook from the Jerusalem cookbook a friend gave us. On Thursday, he actually walked all the way home from the grocery store pushing his walker and paying very careful attention to the contours of the sidewalk. The physiotherapist had told us about the practical consequences of neuropathy in the feet, something which may account for his fall and which we should have known before. This successful spurt left him in great good humour. I have resumed writing, taken up walking again and returned to the gym. Friday morning, at 6:00 a.m., I met my Caregiver neighbour on the Seawalk. We are now bosom buddies.
It will be at least another month before we return to Toronto, but the new norm seems manageable after all. And with the sun finally coming out in Vancouver, and the cherry blossoms, early rhododendrons, ornamental tulips in the latest fashion colours, bright yellow and spritely white daffodils, who could want for anything more?
Jonathan Forani’s delightful article in the Toronto Star last Tuesday on “A Tree-Hugger’s Christmas” is the latest twist on the perennial debate: Do we have a live Christmas tree? or an artificial tree? There is now a third alternative which combines the advantages of both… rent a live Christmas tree.
Live Christmas tree types are adamant that only a real balsam, pine, spruce or fir (any of the many species available), the fresher the better, will do. In their view, only a real tree provides the appropriate atmosphere, and particularly the arboreal aroma that freshens the home throughout the season. Live Christmas tree types like the hunt for “the perfect tree,” in the woods, at a local nursery or in one of those cut-your-own-Christmas-tree farms in the countryside. Finding just the right tree may provoke considerable debate. It almost certainly requires some effort to raise it on one’s vehicle, transport it on the roof of the car, cut off the base of the trunk, mount it in the appropriate place at home, and keep it watered over the season.
Artificial tree types forego all that fuss and bother. For them, the primary attractions of a Christmas tree are the lights and decorations that add lustre to the holiday home. The essence of convenience is an artificial tree packed away in a box which can be brought out of a closet year after year. Artificial trees are available for sale from all major outlets on the internet and delivered to your home. According to Good Housekeeping, in an article entitled “The Best Artificial Christmas Trees That Will Look Great Year After Year,” most artificial trees are now “pre-lit, so you can skip the temper-fraying ritual of untangling wires and distributing lights evenly around the branches.”
In an age when the environmental utility of living trees contributing to the purification of the air is a given, the “real tree” advocates have become a little defensive. How to justify cutting down a healthy tree for use only during two or, at best, three weeks a year? The fact that the city collects the trees, chips them up, and recycles them for mulch provides some solace. At least live trees don’t end up as plastic in a landfill site. The 2000 farmers growing Christmas trees across Canada for domestic sale and export, also argue that their 70,000 acres of Christmas trees add over $125 million annually to the Canadian rural economy. But for the demand for “live” Christmas trees, those trees might never have been planted in the first place.
The third alternative, renting a tree, combines the aesthetic appeal of a live tree with the convenience of the artificial. Now that the kids have grown up and transporting a tree home from wherever is getting more difficult, the idea of renting a real tree has considerable appeal. For businesses, renting a real tree seems the perfect solution. So how does it work?
According to Forani’s article, Alfredo and Marcelo Lorenzo of the reforestation company Sapling Life based in Mississauga, offer potted-tree rentals. They have four sizes of potted white spruce trees which were grown in Langdon, Ontario, and which they will deliver to your home before Christmas and retrieve in the new year. On pickup, the trees are replanted or re-rented next year. They will provide you with instructions for watering the trees and, because the trees are not dying while in your home, they shed few needles. The rental rates range from $85.37 for the small tree to $97.37 for the extra large. Should you want to buy the tree to replant on your own property, the total costs are $145.05 to $176.39. For each tree purchased, the company will plant four small saplings as part of their reforestation campaign. Check out their webpage and see how it works.
Apparently, a former Oakville resident Jeff Ferguson and his business partner Sean Macalister who operate Evergrow Christmas Trees Co. in Burnaby, B.C., started the idea of renting Christmas trees in 2009. Their website indicates that they are “sold out for 2016.”
So is Sapling Life. When I first read the article, renting a tree seemed like a wonderful idea. I looked up the webpage right away, and called to enquire whether the pickup date could be varied. The charming proprietor called me back, and said, “No problem.” By the time I got back onto the webpage, all the trees were “sold out.” Obviously, this is an idea which is catching on. Now that I know about this service, I will get my order in earlier next year.
In the meantime, to those who are celebrating Christmas with whatever tree, or with none at all, Merry Christmas to you and yours. For friends celebrating other traditions, may you enjoy all the blessings of this wonderful season of the year.
Reviewing the daily newspapers is a ritual in our household. When a single edition of the paper hits many issues all at once, with depth and insight, it is particularly gratifying. Such was the case in Saturday’s edition of the Globe and Mail.
So why was I so excited? Let me list the highlights and, if you missed them, let me encourage you to look them up on the internet. In addition to what is listed below, there were three legal reports of great interest which I will summarize in my next post. Watch for “An Update on Current Legal Issues.”
1) Ian Brown on Gord Downie’s Secret Path
Ian Brown has written a multi-level two-page Folio story entitled “Gord Downie: A Story of What Happens Next” about Gord Downie’s legacy project, his Secret Path songs, graphic novel and animated movie about Chanie Wenjack, the twelve-year old Ojibwa boy who ran away from a residential school fifty years ago and died from exposure. The Secret Path had its debut at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa last Tuesday to enthusiastic applause. Brown’s review is a fascinating account of how Downie is dealing with his medical condition, and how he, his brother and their associates learned of Chanie’s story, and what they have done to make the story known to the broader Canadian public. Addressing the issue of cultural appropriation, Brown describes how Downie and his team went to Ogoki Post in Northern Ontario, met Chanie’s sister Pearl Wenjack and learned about their community and culture. They have now established the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund “dedicated to cross-cultural education to support healing and recovery.” It’s a moving story that will bring you up to speed on this very interesting and potentially important cross-cultural endeavour.
2) Judy Stoffman on aboriginal painter Daphne Odjig
An upbeat companion piece to the Folio story is Judy Stoffman’s wonderful obituary to “Aboriginal modernist painter Daphne Odjig,” who recently died in Kelowna B.C. at 97 years of age. I am chagrined to admit that I knew nothing about her, although she is clearly a very prominent painter who has won great recognition. With great élan, Stoffman tells of Odjig’s early life on Manitoulin Island, family losses and rejection by her relatives, her migration to Toronto and her self-education in art, her multiple moves to western Canada, her evolving artistic styles, her leadership in the indigenous art community, and her continuing energy well into old age. This article offers a rich narrative of how Odjig came to appreciate her native heritage and how she became a professional artist. She is an inspiration to me, and to other women, as much as for her own community. If it takes an obituary to introduce us to the stars in our midst, better late than never. Do read her story.
3) The Focus section on Fraud in the American election, including Marcus Gee on Gerrymandering
The five-page Focus section on “rigging the American election” is fascinating. American election officials assure the public that intimidation and corruption at election time are not real dangers.
Marcus Gee, who normally writes about Toronto city matters, has written an in-depth article entitled “Divide, Then Rule.” It describes how both parties historically have drawn state electoral boundaries to make sure their own candidates are elected. Called “gerrymandering,” the practice is open, legal and well-established. Apparently, state officials use the results of the national census every ten years to “redistrict” electoral boundaries so that districts have roughly equal numbers of potential voters. They now use modern data-collection techniques to pinpoint pockets of support and either draw them into the district or to divide up areas of strength for the opposition party.
To illustrate the process, Gee describes how the Republicans used gerrymandering to great success in the North Carolina City of Asheville after the 2010 Census. Gee refers to journalist David Daley’s new book, Ratf**ked:The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. It describes how the GOP conducted a systemic campaign to seize control of state governments. Why? So that they got the power to gerrymander districts for congressional elections. The success of the Republicans has now prompted the Democrats to copy their strategy.
In Canada, a judge heads an independent commission in every province to define changes to constituencies. In the United States, a few states, including California and Idaho, have independent commissions to set boundaries, but most do not. According to the website, End Gerrymandering, “The United States is the only advanced democracy in the world where politicians directly participate in the districting process.”
The world is a circle, smaller than we think, and we are all related, probably more closely than six degrees of separation. That is the premise behind a new initiative I attended last week: the first gathering of 6DegreesTO Citizen Space. Sponsored by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, under co-chairs former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, the focus was on migration, refugees and the issues of inclusion, exodus and prosperity.
The participants came from across Canada and around the world, a gathering of exceptionally experienced people who are working with the issues in many ways. Three mayors talked about how cities are dealing with inclusion: Naheed Nenshi of Calgary, Madeleine Redfern of Iqaluit, and Rabin Baldewsingh of The Hague… three different perspectives in three different contexts. Mexican political scientist and journalist, Denise Dresser, who has three million followers on her Twitter account, is a high-profile activist in a country which is our NAFTA partner but which we know little about. Author Pico Iyer, an acclaimed travel writer and the author of a recent biography on the Dalai Lama, spoke from the perspective of a perpetual outsider. Senator Ratna Omidvar, founding Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson; Eliza Reid, Canadian-born First Lady of Iceland; Doug Saunders, columnist for the Globe and Mail; Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela; Yusuf Muftuoglu, former advisor to past Turkish president Abdullah Gül; James Orbinski from Doctors Without Borders; Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, correspondent for Al Jazeera and frequent commentator on CNN, NBC and BBC… and the list goes on.
Journalists, academics, community organizers, front-line service providers, business leaders, government workers, media types, immigrants who have adapted, and refugees now adapting, to new lives in Canada… all brought to the table particularly well-informed perspectives on migration and diversity. The world has more displaced persons now than since World War II and this reality is projected to continue.
How to respond? What should governments be doing? Businesses? Community groups? Individual citizens? What does Canada bring to the table? Why is Canada considered a world leader in this area? How can we live up to our reputation?
What do migrants bring in return? Increased levels of entrepreneurship. New innovation. Openings to the broader world. Energy and a passionate commitment to success for themselves and others. The 6Degrees Fellows Program generated two substantial reports released at the session. The first: on “New Canadian Entrepreneurs: An Underappreciated Contribution to Canadian Prosperity?” by Bessma Momani and sponsored by the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation. The second: “Open for Business: Immigrant/New Canadian Entrepreneurs in Canada” by Ricardo Cohn and Eric Adebayo, with the support of Vancity. Both are available from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
The event was held in the exceptionally beautiful Centre for Learning at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This facility is flooded with natural light, has break-out rooms with walls of glass, a large mingling area for meals and mixing, and an auditorium at the foot of a glass staircase which can be used “in the round.” To facilitate discussion, “as if at a dinner table,” all the many participants in the event sat in a circle around a raised centre stage. Some of the experts, called “framers,” sat on the stage; others, called “intervenors,” sat in the first row of the circle. The format was less a panel discussion than a conversation between all of them, with questions, comments and observations from the rest of the participants on the floor. It was a remarkably fruitful format which provided ample scope for the exchange of a range of experience.
One theme was the importance of the language we use to describe events. The truth is that particular language shapes perceptions, that perceptions shape actions and non-actions, and that what happens is often a direct response to how the events are described. The question is: does better language result in better thinking? In an age when the media is no longer limited to professional journalists, when everyone has access on the internet to all the information the world has to offer, and when social media and blogging give a voice to anyone who chooses to use it, how do we encourage an engagement with the issues? A good question. Over the next months, I will return to what I learned at 6Degrees several times. I hope you will find these reports of interest.
This past Labour Day weekend, my husband and I visited the backcountry of Algonquin Park. We spent the day with our son, daughter-in-law and her family picnicking in a campsite on Grand Lake, not far from where Tom Thomson painted his iconic “Jack Pine.” My earlier visits to Algonquin Park had been primarily limited to the Highway 60 corridor, so this was a new experience for me. I now get it. I now appreciate why Ontarians so love their largest and most diverse provincial park.
The Achray Lake Campground is about 50 kilometres west of Highway 17 as it skirts around Pembroke and Petawawa on the Ottawa River. It is a trailhead for several popular back country canoe trips, and a campsite set among pine trees, half of which welcomes dogs. We gathered around two picnic tables beneath shady trees beside the lake and near its protected swimming area. This was a lake beach with soft yellow sand and shallow water that went out a very long way before it became deep. The water was warm and clear, with none of the muck and reeds which I had always disliked about Ontario lakes before. When we stood still, we could see the guppies swimming around our feet and the fresh water clams as they created their trails moving through the sand. In the distance, the occasional canoe passed by, and we could spot the loons. It was a perfect sunny day and, although it was a statutory holiday, there were not that many people around. This was an Ontario lake beach at its best.
We spent the day noshing on the food and drink we’d brought in the coolers, swimming, canoeing, playing with the dogs in the water, sleeping, reading, and exploring. Sitting around the picnic table or standing in the water, I got to know members of the Filipino-Canadian family into which my son has married. One of the partners is from La Beauce in the Chaudière-Appalaches region just south of Quebec City. She is a charming French-Canadian woman who always speaks French to their 19-month-old daughter. Those of us who know some French soon realized that we could attract the attention of the infant when we spoke French. All afternoon, we practiced our own French on the toddler.
I met three families of campers who were set up among the pines for their annual weekend away. They had pushed the tables together for communal eating around a big fire pit. Their multiple tents included a huge North Face “Mountain Manor” which, apparently, has two interior rooms and a large inner vestibule to accommodate a family and a large dog in the event of rain. The very creative fathers had fashioned a climbing apparatus which allowed the several young children to move and twist between the ropes. They also created a home-made zip line from a rope which dropped on an angle to a distant tree. They’d placed a pulley on the line from which they suspended a seat to allow the children to run down the line. I learned that one of the fathers was an ex-military with search and rescue training.
When we got to talking about why my husband and I had given up camping, one of the men suggested that we get a small tent-trailer like his mother-in-law had, which provided a good bed above the ground and could be hauled by a small car. They also explained the Ontario provincial park registration system and how we would need to register on the internet six months in advance to the day, if we wanted to get one of these ideal spots by the lake on a summer weekend. I spoke with another camper who had the premier campsite on a small wooded knoll overlooking the lake. He told me that he and his wife had camped there for two weeks, that they came from Hamilton, and were planning a move to the Lower Mainland around Vancouver when they retired next year. They have two sons in Vancouver, and he has a sister in Kelowna. We spent some time discussing the pros and cons of various suburbs and small towns around Vancouver where they might choose to live. Shooting the breeze with strangers is one of the pleasures of camping. Now I am highly motivated to find a tent-trailer outlet, and I know exactly the place where we could store any new acquisition. Maybe we haven’t given up camping, after all. Maybe we just need to do it in a different way. And in Ontario.