Tuesday, November 6, 2018

By Dean Carriere

Two residents of Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital are sitting together in the cafeteria. One suddenly stands up and loudly exclaims, “Shine your boots boys, and saddle your horses. We’re going to war!
The one beside him says, “Sir, Sir…why today?”
The first replies, “It’s Monday and we haven’t had a good war in a long time.”
“Who do you think we should go to war with, General?”
“Well, I was thinking we should attack Bhutan. We haven’t done that one yet.”
“Sir, if you’ll permit me, that doesn’t sound like good enough reason.”
“Lieutenant, they have this radical philosophy there called Cross National Happiness. It’s a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan. It includes an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of its population. It’s outrageous. I want to go there and wipe the smiles right off their silly mountain faces.”
“General, I think instead we should attack the United States of America.”
“Attack the United States! What have you been smoking Lieutenant? That President Trump is too unpredictable. How can one fight a conventional war against such and idiot? There is no way of determining what move he’ll make next. Even he doesn’t know.”
“General, I’m not talking about conventional warfare. I’m talking about a limited strategic attack. We attack and take over the U.S. Senate.”
“The U.S. Senate! Lieutenant, are you nits? How in the hell would we do that with all their security?”
“Sir, I know the chef. He’s Mexican and he hates Trump. He’ll get us in via a food truck to the kitchen.”
“Okay, then how do we get into the Senate Chambers?”
“General, we’ll attack in the afternoon when all the Senators are asleep. As a precaution we’ll run sleeping gas through the heating ducts. Simple.”
“Okay, so what do we do once we’re in the Senate chambers?”
“Remember during the Second World War, how the Gurkhas attacked that German encampment, crept in to the German tents and cut all the soldiers boot laces as they slept with their boots on? When the German soldiers awoke and discovered this they were scared out of their wits and immediately raised the white flag. Similarly, when the Senators awake, they will be equally horrified and will capitulate…in time. Simple, cheap, bloodless. We will have a list of demands that we will provide CNN to read over the airways after we are safely clear of the battlefield. These demands will include the adoption of the principles of the Bhutanese constitution. Along with the list of demands will be the threat of further action with more horrifying consequences… if our demands are not met in the time frame allotted. When our demands are met, there will be a new order allowing ordinary American people to be free of barriers to good health, education and economic opportunity. Then you can come forth as the mastermind….a real hero to the American people and to ordinary people the world over.”
“Jeez, a real hero, that sounds swell, Lieutenant!”
The General rises up again and addresses the whole cafeteria. “Okay men, mount up. We’re going to war!”
The Lieutenant responds: “Sir, I cut your shoe laces while we were talking.”
The cafeteria patrons all break into song:
The General he went riding…hoorah, hoorah
He rode a wild hobby horse…hoorah, hoorah
They jumped the fences in his mind…hoorah, hoorah
And raced towards the setting sun…hoorah, hoorah
No more restraining straps…ha, ha…ha, ha
I am free, I am free…hoorah, hoorah
My army, my army for thee hoorah

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Edge of the Knife                                                    

Director – Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown
In Haida – English subtitles
Haida Gwaii – 1850
The Edge of the knife is based on a Haida legend of the wild man.  The title comes from a Haida saying:
  “The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife, as you go along you have to be careful or you will fall off one side or the other.”
Two Haida families meet every year in their summer camp where they fish, prepare and smoke the salmon, gather berries, and other provisions for the winter, share stories, carry out rituals, renew relationships, etc. on one of the islands of the Haida Gwaii Archipelago.  They live close to the shore where they have a longhouse, the water in front of them and the towering old growth forest behind them where some of the moss-covered trees have huge openings under them providing shelter. 
A canoe arrives and Adiitsii (Tyler York )is greeted by Gaas, a boy of about 12 years of age, who is delighted to see Adiitsii, whom he calls uncle.  Adiitsii and Kwa(William Ross) Gaas’ father, are best friends. Shortly after his arrival Adiitsii gives Gaas his first knife.  Gaas’ mother Hlaaya (Adeana Young)) expresses some concern over Adiitsii’s attitude.  She believes he does not behave respectfully towards others and towards their cultural and spiritual practices.  When an elder gives Adiitsii part of a fish to return to the sea or perhaps for the birds, he throws it rather casually on the beach.  The elder observes this and is clearly not happy with what he sees.  
Gaas, like his deceased grandfather whose spirit he is believed to carry, loves black cod.  He wants to fish for black cod and Adiitsii promises he’ll take him.  However, it is late in the season and the weather is changing.  They will have to leave soon.  Gaas’s parents say maybe he’ll be able to go next year as the weather is too threatening for them to go the next morning.  The following morning Kwa find that Adiitsii’s canoe is gone and Gaas is not in his bed.  All the people are packing up but there’s no sign of Gaas and Adiitsii. 
This trip, as feared, has gone wrong.  The child’s body has washed up onto the beach and Adiitsii is nowhere to be seen; he’s believed to have drowned.  After the emotional mourning rituals for Gaas are performed the canoes leave.
Adiitsii has survived but his guilt and grief transform him into a wild beastlike being.  He spends the winter on the island.  When the families return to this now sad place, it soon becomes evident that the Wildman Adiitsii is still there and they must deal with him somehow.
This is the first time a film has been made in the Haida language.  There are few fluent Haida speakers so the actors had to memorize their lines.  While the language is spoken with some difficulty at times, it isn’t a significant distraction.  The setting, interactions among the people, the tragedy and its aftermath speak for themselves.  An especially powerful portrayal is given by Tyler York as Adiitsii, as an old Haida legend is brought to life.

Red Joan  

U.K.  – Director – Trevor Nunn
This film moves back and forth in time between the old woman Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) and the young Joan (Sophie Cookson).  Joan Stanley is picked up in the year 2000 and charged with treason for having spied for the USSR during the second world war, to which she pleads innocence.  During her interrogation she reflects back to the late 1930s when she was a physics student at Cambridge when she meets Sonia (Tereza Srbora), a Jewish émigré from Russia and Germany who introduces her to the communist circle at Cambridge, which includes a man Sonia calls her cousin, Leo (Tom Hughes), with whom a naive Joan falls in love and with whom she has an affair.  It’s not clear that Joan fully buys into the ideology the others espouse.
Upon graduation Joan takes a job at a British secret scientific program where she signs an official secrets agreement swearing not to divulge anything about her job.  While she is hired ostensibly to be the secretary to the head of the nuclear program, Max (Stephen Campbell Moore), she quickly proves to be a significant asset as the U.K. works toward developing an atomic bomb with the substantial help of Canadian scientists. Joan accompanies Max when he visits the University of Montreal to meet with these scientists.  Leo also happens to be at the University of Montreal as well. Leo and Sonia pressure Joan to give them information about her job which she refuses to do.  
Meanwhile in the present, Joan’s astonished son, Nick (Ben Miles), a barrister, who knows nothing about his mother’s war-time activities, joins her as she is interrogated by MI5 operatives.  She maintains her innocence.
The screenplay by Lindsay Shapero is based on a novel by Jennie Rooney.  Both stories are roughly based on the actual story of the KGB spy, Melita Norwood, a British scientist who gave the Soviet Union important information on the work she was doing during the second world war.
The film makes the “granny spy” played by Judi Dench appear a doddering old woman.  The young Joan has the more interesting role as she navigates between her job and her romantic interest.  The story-line presents a conflicted and uncertain young woman who confronts a moral dilemma.  The film likely does a great disservice to the much tougher, true believer, communist ideologue who knew exactly what she was doing.

 Colette & Vita and Virginia

Below I review two British films about women who struggled to break the bonds that have bound women throughout time. 
Film: Colette
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Actors: Colette – Keira Knightly; Willy – Dominic West; Missy – Denise Gough
A British film based on the life of  French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, 1873-1954, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.  A naïve, gullible, young woman, Gabrielle, the given name she is known by as a young person but later changes to her family name Colette, grows up in a small rural community in France.  When we meet her she is seduced by Willy, a man 14 years older who brings her to Paris where she has to find her way in the sophisticated world he frequents.  Willy is a well-known libertine, writer, publisher, man about town, who does not in fact do his own writer but farms out his work to others to write based on the outline he provides.  
In the evenings he introduces Colette to the fashionable world of Paris that he is part of.  However, Colette is left at home all day long waiting for him to return.  He, on the other hand, carries on the way of life he has always led, including spending time with prostitutes.  When Colette discovers how he spends his time she becomes angry and disappointed with him returns home to her parents.  Willy follows her and promises not to lie to her ever again.  She tells him she wants to be more involved in his activities and soon enough becomes one of Willy’s ghost writers in order to bring more money into the household.  Willy who spends extravagantly is always in debt.  
Colette has told Willy stories about her school life which Willy suggests would make a good novel.  He encourages her to write these stories down which she reluctantly agrees to do.  When Willy reads the manuscript, he tells her it’s too feminine, thereby discouraging her.  She sets the work aside.  However, some time later Willy, desperate for more funds, sits down with her and makes suggestions for changes.  The manuscript of “Claudine at School” is accepted by Willy’s publisher in his name and becomes hugely successful. Wiley Willy realizes what an asset he has in his wife, takes a substantial advance for a second book, “Claudine in Paris”, without bothering to ask her first.  With the advance he buys a country home for her where she can write.  When she expresses her reluctance to write another book he locks her in the study and demands that she write.  The second book proves to be very successful as well and in fact Claudine becomes a kind of cult figure for young Frenchwomen especially once a theatrical production of Claudine is mounted in Paris.  A third book, “Claudine Married” is published next.
By now the country mouse, Gabrielle, has begun to change into the sophisticated, adventurous Colette.  The next Claudine book illustrates this transformation.  The book, “Claudine and Annie”, tells the story of the affair Colette conducts with an American heiress, to which Willy has agreed.  However, the affair ends when an intrigued Willy carries on an affair with the heiress at the same time and Colette discovers his duplicity.  There’s a glitch, however, when the furious elderly husband of the heiress buys all the copies of the book and has them burned.  Willy holds the copyright so he gets another publisher to publish the book.  As well, by now Colette wants her name attached to the book along with Willy’s but he refuses, since, he says, he is the one with the reputation.
Colette begins to spread her wings, studies dance, becomes a performer and meets Missy with whom she falls in love.  Missy challenges Colette to become more independent while Colette’s mother encourages her to leave Willy which Colette is reluctant to do until Willy’s final transgression against Colette forces her to take her life in her own hands and she then starts over again, becoming an independent woman and well-known author in her own right.

Vita & Virginia

U.K. and Ireland
Director: Chanya Button
Vita Sackville-West– Gemma Arterton
Virginia Woolf – Elizabeth Debicki
Harold Nicolson – Rupert Penry-Jones
Vanessa Bell – Emerald Fennell
Baroness Sackville – Isabella Rossellini
Leonard Woolf – Peter Ferdinando
The film draws from theatrical production which used the letters written between Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf, two well-known British writers during the 1920s and 30s.  Vita Sackville-West, poet, author and aristocrat was fascinated by Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, the bohemian, literati of their era.
Vita’s husband Harold was a British diplomat, a gay man, for whom Vita as his wife, was a cover.  She played her role as
diplomat’s wife for which she then exacted her desire for her freedom to pursue her own adventures.  Vita was a bisexual woman who thought of herself as having both male and female characteristics, probably what we would call gender fluid today.  
Vita sought out Virginia whom she believed to be a genius, pursued her with the intent of establishing a friendship, and possibly more.  Virginia was a very different person, intense and serious, everything she did she gave her whole being to.  Virginia suffered from mental illness, fragile and vulnerable, at times, suicidal, who was sexually repressed because of the sexual abuse she had suffered from her stepfather.  She was protected by her husband, Leonard Woolf and sister Vanessa Bell.  Vita wanted to show her that she was stronger than she believed.
Vita won over Virginia’s initial reticence and they became lovers, thereby initiating Virginia into her first satisfying erotic relationship.  The affair continued for a while, interrupted when Harold, Vita’s husband was sent to a diplomatic post in the Middle East.  Vita reluctantly agreed to go with him.  Harold and Vita’s mother, the baroness, placed constraints on Vita’s inclinations.  Her mother threatened to disinherit her and take her two sons away from her if she was to become involved in another public scandalous affair such as she had before she met Virginia and Harold demanded that she fulfill her role as his wife and mother to their sons.
The women picked up their relationship once again when Vita returned to England.  During the time Vita was gone they continued writing to one, although Virginia found the long separation distressing and put her energies into her writing.  Later when Vita arrived at an art show with another woman, Virginia turned her pain into a creative outlet by writing Orlando, in which she described Vita’s three-hundred year “history” in which she transforms from being female to being a male.
Each of these women, Colette, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, one hundred years later, continue to enthrall us with the stories of their lives, illustrating ways of being a woman that went beyond the constraints placed upon women over many centuries.  

Sweet Requiem

Directors: Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam
Actors: Dolkar- Tenzing Dolker; young Dolkar –Tenzin Dechen; Gompo – Jampa Kalsang Tamang; Dorjee – Shavo Dorjee
Tibetan film – made in India
A father and his 8-year-old daughter, Dolkar, set out from their home, a lonely tent in the midst of the Tibetan mountains, leaving behind Dolkar’s mother and younger sister, in order to undertake a
harrowing journey across the top of the world so that Dolkar will have better opportunities in India over those she could have in Tibet.  The story moves between the present and the past.  We are presented with contrasting images of the majestic mountains they traversed with so much difficulty when Dolkar was a child, and the teeming city of New Delhi where Dolkar lives and works in a beauty salon removing unwanted hair from the brows of Indian women.
Dolkar’s memories are brought back in full force when she sees a man she recognizes as the guide who abandoned the small group of people she travelled with through the mountains, leaving them to find their way in the snow and cold over the treacherous mountains into India.  She follows him back to his room, hiding in the stairwell and observing his movements.  He goes by the name of Gompo which is not the name she knew him as.  
Gompo is introduced to the Tibetan exile group by Dolkar’s friend Dorjee as a Tibetan activist who is keeping Tibetans in exile apprised of events taking place in Tibet, including that Tibetans monks continued to self-immolate in order to express their opposition to oppressive Chinese rule in Tibet.  When Dolkar arrives at the meeting and sees Gompo she runs off and Dorjee runs after her asking for an explanation. Eventually  she tells Dorjee that this man is not who he says he is. The more Dolkar recalls the dangers of that trip including being shot at by Chinese soldiers the more she is driven to confront the man.
Meanwhile Gompo is having problems of his own.  He is followed and threatened by two Tibetan men who work for the Chinese, for whom he may also have worked for.  At first, he refuses to go along with the plan they want him to carry out but succumbs when they tell him his wife in Tibet is in prison charged with killing a man who Gompo killed.
Dolkar witnesses his confrontation with the two men when they visit him in his room.  On another occasion the men confront him when Dolkar is with him.  She is now under their radar and when Gompo disappears, the men threaten Dolkar with harm to her mother and sister in Tibet should she do anything to help him.
This film emerged out of the actual shooting and killing of a Tibetan nun endeavouring to cross the mountains into India a few years ago.  The film paints a picture of the oppression Tibetans continue to experience in Tibet under Chinese rule, the dangers they experience in their efforts to traverse the mountains into India and the hardships experienced living in exile. 


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New Podcast...Virginia Ashberry reads her story "Family Lies" (right sidebar, click on the story link)

Friday, November 24, 2017

FILM REVIEW                                THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE

Directed by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki
Actors: Sherwan Haji and Sakari Kuosmane

A ship arrives in a port and unloads; coal is poured into the hold.  Something moves in the coal bin and a man covered in coal dust emerges, climbs out and carefully makes his way through the now ghostly ship. 

He finds his way down the stairs leading off the ship.  It is night and he is in Finland.  Elsewhere in the city a man ties his tie, walks into the kitchen where a woman sits drinking and smoking.  He drops a set of keys on the table along with his wedding ring.  Neither says a word.  He walks out the door, goes to the parking garage where he opens the door to a storage space from which he removes a number of men’s shirts wrapped in cellophane which he places in the trunk of the car.  As he drives out of the garage in his big black car he quickly brakes so as not to run over a man covered in coal dust.  So the two protagonists, Khaled, a Syrian refugee and Wikstrom, a Finnish businessman are introduced to the audience, each at a transition point in his life.

Khaled is directed to a public shower in the train station by a street musician;  he cleans up and then asks the attendant for directions to a police station.  Once there he asks for asylum, is photographed, finger printed and eventually taken to a shelter for refugees/migrants.  Little has been said all this time.  At the shelter Khaled meets someone he can talk to, an Iraqi man who has been in the country for a year but doesn’t think he is progressing.  He’s still in the shelter and hasn’t found work.  

Khaled tells the following story to an immigration official in the hope he will be granted asylum. He is looking for his sister from whom he became separated at the Hungarian border.  In Syria he worked in a garage.  He and his sister arrived home one day at the same time to find their house had been destroyed, his parents and younger brother and uncle and cousins were dead.  He borrowed $6000 from his boss, the father of the women he had been engaged to who is also dead and they left.  They made it to Turkey and Greece paying smugglers along the way and reached the Serbian/Hungarian border where he went ahead while his sister was left behind.  He spent months searching for her.  One day he was beaten by neo-Nazis.  To escape from them he ran onto the ship which sailed with him on board.  He was helped by a sailor who brought him food and told him they were sailing to Finland, a place that treated people equally.  

In the meantime Wikstrom sells his stock of shirts in order to have the money to buy a restaurant, something he’s wanted to do for a long time.  And so both men start afresh, one hoping to find his sister and bring her to Finland and the other to start afresh as a restaurant owner.  Their lives overlap when Khaled accidentally enters Wikstrom’s life and Wikstrom decides to offer Khaled a job and a place to sleep. 

We experience the harshness and precariousness of the life of a Syrian refugee trying to make his way in Europe.  The film shows us his dependence on the officials of the state, the police and immigration officials, coldly doing their jobs and the response of locals, those who threaten him, those who are indifferent to him and those who respond to him in his time of need.  An added dimension to the film introduces us to Wikstrom a middle-aged Finnish man who has his own problems, who in the process of befriending Khaled learns from Khaled’s struggles and determination.

FILM REVIEW                            CARDINALS

Directors:  Aidan Shipley and Grayon Moore
Canadian Film

Sheila McCarthy (Valerie) plays the role of a parolee getting out of prison for the crime of running over and killing her neighbour, Michael in front of his house while drunk. Her two daughters, Eleanor (Katie Baland) and Zoe (Grace Glowicki) who have been living with their father, pick her up outside the prison and return to her suburban home. Although she is anxious to start over again the past has not gone away;, she is confronted by Michael’s son Mark (Noah Reid) who shows up at her house on the first morning she’s home.  He asks her to tell him her version of what happened that night.  She says that she had swerved to miss a dog that appeared in front of the car and instead hit his father.  She tells him she’d been drinking.  He asked her about the dog and who it belonged to.  We learn during this conversation that his mother had committed suicide.

Because Valerie has lost her driver’s license, her parole officer, Jonah (Peter Spence) rides his bike to see her.  She comes out to meet him and sees him kneeling down next to a dead cardinal.  He asks her for a spade to dig a hole to bury the bird that has flown into the basement window explaining that when cardinals see their own image in a window they think it’s a safe place to fly to.  Of course, flying into the window is anything but for the cardinal and we then wonder what the self-destructive act is in this film. Josh and Valerie go into the house where Valerie assures Josh she doesn’t have a drinking problem.  She exaggerated the issue at the trial because she thought it was expected by the crown and judge.  Josh says that she killed a man while drinking and driving therefore it was a bigger problem that she was admitting to.

Meanwhile Mark pursues the matter of the dog, visiting the neighbours whose dog Valerie said had been on the road the night she ran over his father.  He later shows up at the same AA meeting as Valerie where he tells the group he started drinking when his mother killed herself.  She had waited until he was 18 years old before the suicide.  She had not been able to cope after his father was run over by a friend.  The group leader then turns to Valerie and asks her to tell her story which she declines to do and runs out of the meeting.

It becomes apparent that there is more happening here than the story Valerie tells.  The story unwinds slowly at first and then with greater speed as the truth unfolds for Valerie who had thought she was safely home.

FILM REVIEW                               THE GUARDIANS

Director:  Xavier Beauvois
Actors:  Nathalie Baye – Hortense
Iris Beya           - Francine
               Cyril Descours – Georges
               Olivier Rabourdin – Clovis
               Nicolas Giraud   - Constant
French Film 

With the men in France conscripted to fight during WW1 the women were left behind to keep things going.  Hortense, the family matriarch and her daughter Solange are charged with running their farm when Hortense’s two sons, Constant and Georges and Solange’s husband, Clovis, are at the front.  The work is very labour intensive, horses pull the plow while Hortense walks behind holding the handles of the plow and Solange walks beside the horses leading the way.

When Constant, who had taught at the local school comes home on leave he encourages his mother to get some help.  The work is too heavy and too much for the two women.  Reluctant at first, she changes her mind and seeks help for the harvest by which time most of the helpers and all the men are spoken for but one woman who would be available to assist them after finishing what she was doing.  Francine, an orphan, arrives at the farm and is a diligent worker.  Hortense is impressed and keeps her on after the harvest.  Francine and Marguerite, Solange’s husband’s daughter from a previous marriage become friends.  Marguerite goes away to school and does not help out at the farm.  When Georges, the second son comes home on leave he is attracted to Francine and asks her to write to him.  They begin a romance by mail.  However, Marguerite who is in love with Georges and has always assumed they would marry becomes angry and jealous when she finds out.  Georges, in turn, tells Marguerite that he loves her as a sister which is not what she wants to hear.  This situation will have consequences for Francine.

Throughout the film we see the backbreaking work; hand threshing of wheat,tying up of the sheaves manually, daily milking and herding of the cattle, endless long, exhausting labour with little time or energy for much else.  And yet their world is a timeless one, a rural, agricultural way of life so close to the horror of war and yet removed from it.  The women do their best to work the farm while continuing to carry out the domestic work they have always done, with little extra help.  The old grandfather is no longer able to do heavy farm labour.  The young men show up briefly, one at a time and then leave to return to the uncertainty of the war. Will this be the last time they return to the farm, will they be taken prisoner, sustain injuries, be killed?  Whatever happens, life and the work of the farm must go on.

Monday, November 6, 2017

What is Free Time? 

FREE TIME    Beverley Joselin

We who are over sixty find the free time was not a positive part of ones life.
So many influences guided your days.

-religion gave one hard rules to live by

-parental power set the other rules

-then school dictated your use of time to secure your future

So, when reaching adulthood, habits were set...get to work on time, work hard and fill your time with personal and community advances and advantages.

Now, those habits are hard to break....keep an orderly household, see to family needs, retain friendships and turn up when and where expected..

However, with the realization that some of the above needs seem to be set in stone, we CAN exercise our free will and therefore , free time....but it takes practice.

I find that late at night the imagination can lead you to relax and enjoy all sorts of activities that don't involve a meal to be cooked,a floor to be vacuumed, a phone call to be made or an appointment to be kept.For me, the other place to hide is in music. Just listen, hear and feel the rhythm and physical vibrations. Move to it, or rest in it, use it like a hot shower and enjoy unguided or required results. THAT is real free time !!!

by Virginia Ashberry

 I stand in a vast meadow, trees so far away they look like only a short ragged hedge in the distance. The ground before me is covered with wild grass that is improbably soft and so unnaturally short that this vista looks like manicured green. Nothing in my immediate view prompts me to move or draws me forward.
Hands on hips, legs spread comfortably; I scan this view for a reason to step, to reach out, to seek and pluck an errant weed, or chase away an unwanted vermin. Maybe to harvest an armload of flowers for an empty vase that I believe sits on a perfect tablecloth in an obsessively tidy cottage that rests empty just behind me now. Not one of these distractions presents itself to me.
 I stand, indecisive, still.
Nothing lures me back into an echoing
structure behind that does not need me. Nothing pulls me forward onto the unreal blanket of an even, predictable, useless green enclosure.
Scanning again the distant faraway tree line looms dark and uneven. Irregular spikes speak of danger and promise in equal measure.
Breathing slowly, then deeply, conscious of the rising and falling of my shoulders I speak one word out loud.
In a rolling gait, I begin a slow but deliberate journey forward, to trees far past the security of my green isolation.

               A Long-time Companion, Radio
By Gloria Geller

Sunday morning, a slow time, in the week, maybe prepare a special breakfast such as an omelet or pancakes with fruit and maple syrup, read the Saturday newspaper and for more years than I can remember, listen to Sunday Morning/Sunday Edition on CBC radio hosted by Michael Enright.  Shortly after 9:00 a.m., after the hourly news I’m eager to hear what Michael will riff on at the top of the program followed by the major interviews or panel discussions that will take up the first hour of the show.  Often the second or third hour will present a special broadcast often on interesting topics; a recent one was about a Montreal man who was suing the Government of Quebec, Education Department because the Hasidic school he attended as a youngster, did not properly prepare him to live and earn a living in Canadian society, eliminating such things as language instruction, mathematics, science, in effect the required curriculum in the province of Quebec.  In between we are presented with music selected by someone with superb taste, often jazz.  Michael reads letters/emails from people commenting on the previous week’s program. 

The format is reminiscent of another one-time excellent daily morning show in the 9-noon time slot, early on, This Country in the Morning, later, Morningside, whose hosts have included Michael Enright, Judi LaMarsh, Hana Garnter, Don Harron and of course the initimable Peter Gzowski, a program which has been replaced by the likes of Jian Gomeshi and others whose backgrounds do not lend themselves to the quality of Gzowski and Enright.  A few years ago a friend informed me that Gomeshi is who people of today wanted to hear and I was clearly dated.  I have tried to listen to this and subsequent versions of the program but am invariably forced to change stations.

Radio has been a constant companion in my life and I continue to enjoy listening although CBC Radio once recognized for its excellent programming has steadily declined.  The on-air hosts for early morning shows are mediocre as are the replacements on such shows as As It Happens whose current host Carol Off is an excellent interviewer.  My objection is that many of these hosts are poor interviewers, not really understanding how to get the person to talk without asking inane questions, such as how they feel often about some horrendous situation they have just gone through.  I wish they would respond by saying to one of these interviewers, how do you think you’d feel if your child was murdered!  Some are very aggressive in their questioning, again, I believe, because they don’t know how to conduct the interview.  I often found myself raging when listening to Sheila Coles on CBC in Regina and I find it difficult to listen to the local morning show on CBC as well. 

As It Happens is another program I’ve listened to over much of its lifetime and while Carol Off is very good, the program isn’t drawing on as broad a range of people to interview as it did under yet another great CBC voice, Barbara Frum who interviewed significant individuals from all over the world.  Of course, the CBC has experienced severe cuts over many years now and likely simply can’t compete with its earlier programs.  Another weekly program I enjoy is Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap playing a wide range of music of the mid-late 20th century on Saturday or Sunday evening.  Eleanor Wachtel’s in-depth interviews with authors introduces me to writers I may never before heard about.

My earliest memories of listening to the radio include the children’s program I would run home to listen to as a latch-key kid of 9, “Maggie Muggins and Mr. McGarrity” describing the adventures of a young girl.  From those days and maybe earlier I recall my father’s Sunday morning listening, a program that originated in Hamilton on CHML, the Yiddish Hour, with music events and stories of interest to its audience.  I still recall some of the great favourites of the 40s and early 50s as we sat around the radio, a major piece of living room furniture, in the evenings.  What stands out still is the distinctive and distinguished voice asking “Who knows what evil lies in the hearts of men?” followed by the answer, “The Shadow knows!” with the eerie sound of a squeaking door accompanying this introduction giving me the shivers.  Radio drama was a special, if short-lived phenomenon.  Actors would perform their lines while technicians would use props to make the accompanying sounds.  In some ways there is a renewal of storytelling on the radio and elsewhere with the introduction of podcasts.

Among our weekly listening were comedy programs such as the Jack Benny Hour in which skits were enacted as you listened perhaps with greater care because there would be no visual clues.  I also remember daytime programs such as “the Happy Gang”, a daily Canadian program whose tune was memorable.  Soap operas were daily fare as were the jingles advertising soap and of course, cigarettes “Call for Philip Morris!”

As I entered my teens, the music stations I listened to played the latest top 40 songs, in particular CHUM was popular with my set at the time.  When TV came along it tended to borrow from radio including variety shows, Top 40 and ultimately dance shows.  Many radio performers moved over to TV as did Jack Benny and in Canada, Wayne and Shuster. 

I’m not sure when I discovered CBC Radio but once I started living in my own apartment and didn’t have a TV, the radio and CBC became my primary companion, left on much of the time when I was home, early morning and late at night.  Even once I decided there might be something worth watching on Television, especially living in the Prairies and it’s long, cold and dark winters, I pretty well never put on the set until prime time or to watch the news. 

An advantage with radio is that it can be heard while one moves around the room; you can cook, dust, etc. without having to settle into one place to watch.  Still today, one doesn’t have to carry anything in your hands or pocket, just turn on the Tivoli or Bose and listen.  It’s substantially safer to listen to radio in the car, something I generally do while driving.  How many times have I reached my destination only finding myself remaining in the car in order to hear the end of a discussion or story.

Today the radios in my house are set to CBC Radio 1 and 2 and to a Jazz station.  There’s definitely more competition now than ever before when radio was the most significant medium in the household.  In my books, however, radio remains an important, trusty and loyal companion.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

By Shannon Chartrand
Why hadn’t I told my mother? I guess I never liked to rock the boat. That was my twin’s role. She sank the boat. Like the time she told my mother that the teacher inspected our hair - only our hair - for lice. Mom flew over to the nun’s residence on her broom, so to speak. When Sister St. Frederick answered the door, Mom ripped off her headdress. This could not have been easy since Mom only reached Sister’s armpit.

Mom was the type who swung first and asked questions later. She would have been a good saloon fighter. As it turned out, my twin and I had missed school the previous day when the rest of the class had been checked for lice. Sister treated us with kid gloves after that. I wasn’t about to tell Mom anything about our new teacher.

My twin, Sheila, and I had joined the school late. This memory may be from our first day at the school. We were fresh from the country where seven grades had been in the same class. The three kids in grade seven got all the attention because they had to pass Provincial exams at the end of the year. Needless to say, we hadn’t learned much by the time we reached the City.

This new teacher, (I’ll call her Mrs. Maguire) stood at the front of the class, her girth blocking a large, French storyboard. A halo of tight curls crowned her head, making her look like an aged Orphan Annie. Her belt cut her into two equal-sized lumps.

We were lined up along the length of the classroom between the wall and our desks. Like a human conveyor belt, the first in line spelled the word given by Mrs. Maguire, then walked to the end of the line until her turn came again, and so on and so on. This concept of being tested individually in front of the class was foreign to me. I wasn’t nervous. Just curious about the whole process. 

My twin, Sheila, misspelled her word.  She went to the end of the line. I misspelled my word. As I reached the end of the line, I heard the teacher say quietly, “Twin dummies”, as though she were thinking out loud.

Mrs. Maguire might just as well have punched me in the back of the head.  A physical sensation surged through me like a glass filling with tap water. I think it was anger, something alien to my sanguine nature. But the anger was mixed with an emotional tsunami of impotence, injustice, indignation and humiliation.

Calling us dummies would have been bad enough. But, Mrs. Maguire had added the adjective ‘twin’. It was as if she was incredulous that we could both be dummies. Like we were circus freaks. It was the first time I had heard the word ‘twin’ used pejoratively. Being a twin was integral to my identity. I was half of a whole. She had attacked my core.

I was bruised but not broken. The concept of ‘homework’ was unknown to me. I had never seen anyone doing homework. My mother had never suggested it. However, I knew that’s what I had to do. 

That night, I curled up in bed with my spelling book and memorized the next day’s list of words by the street light streaming through our basement window. By the end of the year, I won the prize for ‘most improved’.
Mrs. Maguire’s epithet had not registered with Sheila. She didn’t join me in my newfound fervour for homework. Falling through the cracks, Sheila dropped out of school after grade seven. A good teacher might have found a way to motivate her.

As for Mrs. Maguire, may she rot in hell. In fairness, though, her cruel remark ignited a fire that served me well throughout my life.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Haida Gwaii

by Gloria Geller

The Haida Gwaii is a group of islands forming an archipelago off the northwest coast of British Columbia – latitude N52o, longitude W131o, where the Haida people have resided at least 6000 – 8000, probably more, years.  It is the place I choose to travel to in the summer of my 70th year.  On a cool, misty, drizzly July morning we slide down the slippery ramp to get a ferry from Skidegate to Alliford Bay on Moresby Island where we meet the group we are to spend the remainder of the day with, along with our very young guide, Max.   We have an hour’s ride over logging roads, past clear cuts of old growth and newer forest to Moresby Camp where we don rainwear consisting of wellington boots, huge yellow rain coats and rain pants worn over our clothing.  We struggle to get over the edge of the Zodiak, our means of water transportation, which is not a simple matter and most undignified, stomach first.  We sit in the very small seats, knee to knee, hugging the sides of the seats, holding on tightly.  As the boat clips along the waters of Hecate Strait, the wind smacks our faces. The goggles we are given to wear help keep the spray at bay from our eyes.

We travel a short distance between Moresby and Louise Island where we stop to explore the teaming intertidal life and admire the vast array of beings that live in these places, taste seaweed and a type of grass both good to eat and reasonably tasty.  We pass a large colony of seals enjoying themselves on the rocks and spot some deer and a fawn or two, some of the 60,000 deer living on the islands, initially introduced by European settlers for their meat.When we stop for lunch at a sandy beach we walk into the sacred, ancient forest of Sitka spruce and massive cedar trees, the ground and trees carpeted with moss and lichen.  We come upon a 600 year old Sitka tree, stop to acknowledge the ancient one and express our thanks for allowing us to touch its trunk.  We encounter roots and remnants of old trees, now lying on the ground, nursery trees that nurture baby trees that grow on them.  

After lunch we set out onto Hecate Strait bouncing along in rain, mist and swell.  Eventually we arrive at our destination, Skedans, an old Haida village vacated early in the 20th century when the Haida people were decimated by diseases, especially smallpox, brought by Europeans.  The remaining numbers, about 590 or so people, gathered in a couple of the larger communities, leaving behind their longhouses, totem and mortuary poles, way of life.  

As we disembark from the Zodiac, the beach is almost impassable, tons of massive tubular appearing seaweed has washed up on the beach after a very windy Monday.  One of our group lands on her backside on the slippery surface and since we are adorned with such cumbersome clothing and boots, she has to be helped up.  We walk hand in hand toward the old village.  A watch person, a significant figure in Haida lore often spotted on totem poles, stays on the island full-time from May to September to guard against souvenir hunters.  Of course, much of the treasure of these islands was vandalized by those seeking to benefit from selling them.  This could possibly include totem poles and other artifacts purchased by museums around the world.

As we walk around the remains of the old village we are accompanied by a small bird that greets us when we enter the abandoned village, follows us as we tour the ruins of the community including the foundation of one or more longhouses, some totem poles and mortuary poles, and flies along with us as we move to the next site.  I can’t help but feel that the bird is behaving as our guide, something that we would not experience among wild birds elsewhere.  

We’re told that several generations would live together in long houses.  We learn that the dead are memorialized by mortuary poles while totem poles commemorate specific events such as a potlach or of specific clans and clan members. They stand guard on this long abandoned place, a reminder of those who once populated this place.  

We spend some time walking around trying to comprehend what life might have been like in this isolated, watery world, a world stripped to its most elemental. We have experienced a tiny bit of what it may have been like to live with the sea, trees, rain, wind, observe the life on and under water, and on the land, while being observed by the eagles that look down at all there is to see as they circle high overhead.