Monday, July 30, 2007

Bon Appetit

The other day Michele and I had a lengthy discussion about cannibalism. As you do. (what? Don’t you??)

It all started when one of us made a joke regarding the difference between cats and dogs – when their owner dies, dogs will sit howling next to the body, pining and wasting away. Cats will eat your face. And that’s one of the many things I love about the members of the feline race, I said – how wonderfully unsentimental they are.

I am 8 or 9 in my first memory of being told about cannibals. Sitting in the gym at my school, along with all the other students, I am watching a slideshow, overwhelmed by the exotic images on the screen, so lost in the stories of far away places that the sounds and smells of the gym disappear and I am thisclose to actually being there. An explorer/anthropologist/author (I'm pretty sure that this is him and this may be the book I later bought) had come to my school to tell us about his time spent with the cannibals of New Guinea. I remember two things vividly. The first being that when the tribes went to war, they’d fight (with spears) in an open space. When the first warrior was killed, the war was over and the victory given to the other tribe (how very civilized). The body of the warrior was also given to the victors (this I learned later – or maybe I just remember the later learning of it) and he was eaten as a tribute to his bravery, in the hope that his courage would become absorbed by the diner. The second thing I remember about that day was standing up and asking what human for dinner tasted like. Somewhere between pork and chicken, he said.

This was the moment that first sparked my interest in anthropology - when I went to university, I took several courses in the field and this was where I learned about kuru, caused by eating infected brain tissue (especially partly cooked infected brain tissue, which was why it was primarily found in women, who would be tasting the dish as they were cooking it for the warriors. Or so my memory claims). This ended up being a nice bridge between anthropology and my major of psychology where I learned about other kinds of diseases causing brain damage and boy, am I ever digressing.

Years after that lecture first made me wonder what human flesh tasted like, I read my first English book about the Peruvian soccer team that crashed in the Andes and were forced to eat the dead in order to survive. This was the second time I was prompted to think about cannibalism and what I'd do in the same situation. And so, we’re more or less back on track regarding the conversation that started it all, as naturally the next question following talk of the Andes crash was whether I thought I could eat a person. My answer was yes. Purely theoretical, y’understand, as I have yet to be placed in a sufficiently dire situation where this might be necessary, but if I ever crashed in the Andes (or somewhere of similar harsh environment) and some people died and it was a matter of survival… I'm not saying the first bite would be easy, but if it was the other way around and I was dead? Well, this is where I engaged in some firm direction, informing Michele that under those circumstances, she'd better start chowing down. I'm fairly thin, so it wouldn't be able to keep her alive for long, but every little bit helps and it's not as if I would be using my body anymore. I did make it clear though, that I wasn't giving anyone permission to off me just because they were a mite peckish and couldn't be bothered going down the beach to catch fish.

Which is probably why I love the unsentimentality of cats. Because I so would do the same thing.

Would you?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Participatory Democracy

I'm a little busy. Hardly any time for blogging. Or anything else, come to think of it.

It all started sometime around last weekend when I decided that I needed a bit of a break. Less running around and much more time spent in the park, reading. Given that The Book was released this Saturday and there was a better than average chance that I’d have it in my grubby little hands sometime this week, it started to seem like kismet and I was as excited as a... I was going to say 11-year-old, but given how many adults of my acquaintance have been jumping up and down about it, perhaps that analogy is not entirely accurate. You know what I mean when I say The Book, don't you? Yes indeed, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is finally out and thanks to divine intervention by the Tech God, it has been on my iPod since Tuesday evening.

It's been an interesting experience so far. Normally, it takes a while to get the feel of an audio book - well, that applies to a "book book", as well. You need time to suspend disbelief, to disappear into the universe existing between the "covers", to stop listening to the narrator and instead hearing the story. Not with this one. I guess it's returning to a beloved world, to characters I've come to know over the years and to a narrator describing this world expertly and with the same voices I’ve listened to for so many hours. I started reading late Tuesday night - it was dark and quiet and as I put on my earphones and pressed play, I closed my eyes and focused on the sound. Which meant I was instantly back where the last volume left off. The book starts with a bang - don't worry, this post will be spoiler-free and the comments…. Well, let’s just say if I see anything but the most general of comments regarding the book, I'm sending Kreacher to your IP address! A-hem.... where was I? Oh, yes! The combination of the writing of the first chapter, which is very well written and very effectively scary, and the brilliance of Jim Dale’s (go here and click on "watch the festivities" to hear him read - the man's a master!) portrayal of Voldemort - that's not a spoiler, you knew he'd be in it - creeped me out so much, I had to turn it off. All right, so I am somewhat impressionable, but holy parseltongue, Nagini! Cold shivers up and down my spine!

I'd had some trouble unplugging and doing the vacation thing, but the moment I parked myself under a tree and started listening again (this time in full daylight), I was lost. And have been lost ever since, consumed by all things Potter. When I'm not reading - and what a joy it is to just sit still and disappear into a book - I'm resenting activities that drag me away from it. And I'm not alone - I know of someone who called in sick to their job so they could finish the book, someone else has a circle of friends taking turns reading it aloud to each other and I know several who lost their weekends to the story. None of these people, by the way, are younger than 40.

This is a very long-winded way of saying that I don't have time to blog (oh, really Lene? The evidence begs to differ, you verbose git…). Therefore, I got the bright idea to let you do the work today. I mentioned a while ago that I'm trying to always have a non-fiction book on the go and I'm having trouble choosing the next one. Then it occurred to me to let you pick a book from the following list and after reading your choice (not until I’ve finished The Book, naturally), I’ll report back with a review. In alphabetical order, here are the options:

Body of Work. A memoir of medical school, this book is anchored by the author’s semester of gross anatomy and her dissection and relationship with "her" cadaver. The author was a poet and a writing teacher before she became a doctor, so this should be a treat to read.

The Island at the Centre of the World. This is a story of the original Dutch colony of new Amsterdam (pre-1664) that was taken over by the British and later became Manhattan. It's an era about which I know absolutely nothing, but it sounds intriguing.

Tigers in the Snow. I may have mentioned once or twice that I have this thing about tigers and have had this book for while, saving it for a special occasion. It is the story of the author’s travels in the Russian Far East, searching for the Siberian tiger. It sounds fascinating and any time spent in the company of tigers can only be good (provided you aren’t y'know... lunch).

What say you?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I used to go to a lot of concerts when I was younger and thanks to several years of being a chaperone/companion for my sister during her early adolescence and later heavy metal phase, I’ve been the (sometimes) lucky recipient of a varied musical exposure. Sinead O'Connor, Juluka, John Mellencamp (my choices) have been mixed with Depeche Mode, Skid Row - Loudest. Band. Ever - and Guns N’ Roses (her choices and the last one, by the way? Put on one of the best shows I've ever seen, much to my surprise, as before I went to concert, I really didn’t like them. Another lesson for me to do my research before I open my big mouth and opine).

There were several years where I went to every Sting concert that came through Toronto. I figured it was the least I could do, given that he’s my pretend boyfriend. Or one of them. That's the great thing about imaginary relationship - it's OK to diversify! Which I do, including Sean Connery, Peter Dinklage, Colin Firth on the list and I could go on, but won't, although why I'm being concerned about embarrassing myself when I've already publicly admitted to an imaginary harem, I don't rightly know. The point is that for as long as I can remember, Sting has been on the top of my list and not just because of his good looks (which are very good indeed) but because of his talent. I may not always have been completely thrilled with the directions of his artistic growth, but I've never found him boring and isn't that the main thing to look for in a boyfriend, whether he is imaginary or real? Less surprising than GN’R, my other "best concert ever" was the Nothing Like the Sun tour, at which I for the first (and so far last) time in my life squealed like an adolescent girl during a moment of enthusiastic fan appreciation (we had good seats. He took his shirt off. 'Nuff said). Apparently, today I have no shame in terms of what I share with you, but I hope that some of you will take pity on me and share equally excited/embarrassing stories from your past. Anyway! Onwards!

Funnily enough, despite my concert history, I never got to see The Police live, mostly due to the fact that by the time I arrived in a country that had frequent big concerts, the band broke up. I've always regrettrf never getting to see one of my favourite - then and now - bands live. Until this past Sunday when my friend Sue and I had tickets to the reunion tour. It was amazing, incredible, wonderful, everything I ever thought it would be and more. The opening band was Fiction Plane (don't click on that if you're at work and don't want your boss asking questions about the music coming out of your speakers), fronted by Joe Sumner, Sting’s son. Who sounds like his dad and moves like his dad. It was very discombobulating. I could go on about the concert itself, but there are a gazillion reviews out there – don’t believe the ones written by people whose lives seem driven by the opportunity to sneer at Sting. Never quite got that and not just because I like listening to the beautiful man.

It's been awhile since I've been to a concert and it's been even longer since I've been to a big concert. Things have changed.

We were welcomed to the Air Canada Centre by some very cheerful and polite stormtroopers requesting that the throngs open their bags and purses for inspection prior to being led in. Once inside - and oh, boy, is the Air Canada Centre ever big - frighteningly good behaviour continued. I did not once smell any weed (OK, I'll give them that, after all, it was inside), there was a barricade between the front row seats and the stage (which later turned out to be space for the cameras which were broadcasting pictures up on the large screens, so everyone up in the nosebleed section could see something more than tiny stick figures. It still created a sense of separation and distance between the performers and audience) and although there was dancing, everyone stayed by their seats. No moshpit, no dancing in the aisles. It was all very civilized - far more civilized than any concert I've ever been to. Maybe due because of the age of the audience, which tended to veer towards middleaged, although there was a surprising amount of people there who weren’t born when the band broke up. Strange. Weirdest of all: the show started on time. Never in my life have I been to a concert that started on time and my mind boggled over this for most of the night. I mean, I was home by 11:15!

Thankgodfully, some things haven’t changed. The sound was loud. Loud enough to feel the bass in your heart and to make you half deaf (had to pop my ears afterwards to hear anything but distant voices below an ocean-like whoosh). After a while, the barricaded camera area didn’t matter anymore and the energy of a live show with an engaged audience was just as great as it always is. There’s something about doing a call and response between the singer and 20,000 enthusiastic fans that transcends mere singing and makes you understand mass hysteria (this also brought home by the screaming and hollering when the lights went down and then up again revealing Sting, Stewart and Andy. My voice is still a mite raspy). Many songs and several encores later, we went home, full and happy, floating on little clouds of equal parts nostalgia (satisfied by hearing the old hits) and appreciation (enjoying the reworking of the old hits).

They’re coming back in November. I’m trying very hard not getting tickets for that show, too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

On the Other Hand

So there I was the other night, whingeing. Muttering about the busy, the endless lists and errands and to-ing and fro-ing and how I run around madly all day, collapse and sleep like the dead for an hour or so for my Mandatory Rest Period and then most days, up and at ‘em again until about 10pm, which is the main time I have for talking to friends, except by then I’m so fried I don’t want to talk to anyone and the other days, I make dinner and then sit and drool in front of the idiot box, incapable of intelligent thought. And I said to myself “just look at the list, will you! Look at it! 15 things to be done today!! Yesterday was the same and tomorrow won’t be any different!” (I said this mostly to myself, as besides the part about no time for the phone, there’s the awareness that bellyaching is boring for other people to listen to and being conscious of the fact that my mother is stuck in a nursinghome and thus have more reasons to bitch than I do). Anyway, I was feeling sorry for myself, reviewing my lists, being mightily put out about my inability to sit in the park and read (only twice this summer – what is the world coming to?) and then I realized that everything except one or two minor items was done and this stillness crept over me, leaving the moment drawn out and almost holy. And then I laughed and laughed, because get this - every day, I get most of the list done!. Two months ago, I posted about being a tortoise, doing one thing a day, having no energy for more. And now, I am running the lives of two people. Sure, I’m exhausted and after 5 weeks of this pace, need to consider stopping for a few days or risk my body making sure I stop by developing some illness or other, but! I’m doing it!!

And that’s when I stopped whining and became grateful instead. I used to do a regular thing, posting about gratitude and I’m thinking it’s time to get back in the habit again. So here are some other things I’m grateful for:

24-hour grocery stores.

Weather that allows for doing your grocery shopping in the evening instead of being trapped in your apartment the minute the sun thinks about nearing the horizon for fear of frostbite.

Friends who run errands, friends who listen and friends who take me to lunch for silliness and socializing.

John/TinkPapa recovering like a spring chicken from his hip replacement, going back to work a week early. Dude knits like a starfish (y’know… the grow another arm if one’s cut off. Tortured analogy, I know – feel free to leave a better/wittier one in the comments).

After being laid off due to company closure, Janne/TinkMama got a job after only 1 week of unemployment. Temporary, sure, but she’s so damn talented, she’ll find a permanent one in no time.

Saw my rheumatologist last week and instead of crying in her office, I babbled on about how great everything is. She looked at my hands and said with a bit of a wince “you can see all your deformities” (because the swelling/inflammation is gone) and although I normally don’t like the D-word, I replied “I know! Isn’t it great?!”. All hail Humira!

And I’m grateful for Canada. 25 years ago tomorrow, my family and I got on a plane in Copenhagen and flew across the Atlantic to Toronto. For “one or two years”. But instead of going back, we’ve made a life here, have found good friends (one of whom married my sister and got her preggers with the Tinks), created a family of choice and put roots down deep.

I am rich beyond measure.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guilty Pleasure

We all have an ultimate treat. Something beyond bad for you, with absolutely no redeeming values, something that is so heinous (and yet, so delicious) that you only imbibe rarely. I limit consumption of my guilty pleasure to once a year, but luckily, it's a three-month orgy of badness - if you're only going to wallow around in the filth once every 365 days, it's a good idea to choose something that lasts. My crack for the soul? Big Brother, naturally!

I watched this season's first episode and questioned whether I'd continue. It wasn’t the "making a show of questioning while I clear my schedule 3 days a week for the forseeable future", no, I legitimately wondered how I would possibly become addicted to such a lame bunch of house guests. They are skewing seriously young this year, as well as frighteningly dimwitted. In previous seasons, about half of them would be of the bimbo/himbo persuasion, the rest of the cast people you could imagine having a conversation with. This year, the ratio appears to be overwhelmingly idiot to can-count-on-one-hand relatively intelligent. Nonetheless, I watched the second episode and by the end cared passionately about several contestants (mostly in terms of who I wanted gone) and could remember the names of at least half, both of which are signs that I am officially hooked and set for the annual bacchanalia. The twist this year is that three of the contestants had an enemy, an ex or someone with whom they have unfinished business living in the house.

In no particular order, the contestants are:

Dick. Or "Evil Dick" as he has informed one and all that he is generally known. He claims to be "a fixture on the LA music scene" and looks like Keith Richards - the man has lived hard. He is also the father of Daniele (see below), who hasn't spoken to him in a couple of years. I liked him immediately. He talks a lot, namedrops shamelessly, but he looks like he has a good heart and he clearly cares about his daughter. Maybe he'll get annoying later, but for now, he's one of my favourites. Especially because he drives Jen crazy.

Daniele. Dick’s estranged daughter. Seems to be one of only three contestants actually playing the game (the other two are Kail and Eric). Unfortunately, my ability to assess/admire her gameplay is blurred by how underweight she is. Get the girl some Ensure!

Jen. She of many occupations and large ego, Jen initially distinguished herself by having a complete meltdown about her picture on the wall (which was apparently “bad” – it looked fine to me). She actually cried. Not just merely a tear or two, but sobbing and hiccuping with the sobbing. Since then, she has informed all and sundry during the first food competition (in which the houseguest would be drenched in butter and have other houseguest scrape it off them into a huge bucket of popcorn - what other show does something like that?) that she did not want Dick to touch her because "she didn't like an old man's hands all over her body". Jen? Honey?? Dude’s FORTY-FOUR!! That’s not old. And yes, I know he looks like he’s got germs, but didn’t your mother ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover? May I mention that sure, you’re a very pretty girl and all, but your personality has germs.

Jessica. With a voice like Minnie Mouse on helium, sporting a valley girl accent and a bitchy attitude, plus too much spray-on tan making her look remarkably like a tangerine, Jessica certainly makes an impression. A bad one. I want her off my TV. Apparently, she and Carol (BFF! She actually said BFF. I kid you not) had a fight in middle school and haven’t spoken since and whereas Carol moved on and forgot about it, Jessica appears to have nursed a grudge since and completely eviscerated Carol at every opportunity. Besides, the voice feels like sandpaper on the brain. And I thought Holly’s in Season 5 was bad...

Carol. Seemed like a nice, well-adjusted girl. First one to leave. Likely because she’s a nice, well-adjusted girl.

Joe. Announced to everyone within earshot (and several million fans) that Dustin had given him gonorrhea and continued to be so obnoxious that all of ‘em immediately believed Dustin’s side of the story. Really didn’t like him much, until I discovered this link in which he does a terrific Amber caricature and as he and Dustin have become more civil, I’ve decided to give him another chance.

Kail. The other “old” (i.e., over 35) houseguest. Multi-business owner, apparently “half the town” works for her. Appears smart. Aligned herself with the Himbo Triad (see below), which seems clever in the beginning, but might burn her later when, should they get to final four, the guys will vote her out.

Nick, Mike and Zach. Kail’s alliance – I know Nick’s the one with the shoulder tattoo and the unfortunate haircut, but can’t tell Mike and Zach apart. One of them has weird eyebrows. Or maybe both.

Dustin. Joe’s ex and the calmer of the two. Seems to be nice, lying low and slowly building alliances, first with Amber and now with the Himbo Triad. Clever, that. Might go far, depending on how crazy Joe gets and whether its catching.

Jameka. The only black houseguest. Seems smart, funny, but lying low. Time will tell.

Amber. Cries a lot, constantly invokes how she’s doing this “for her family” (I guess that means she deserves it more than the other houseguests) and tries to establish a close teamwork with God, in which he intervenes directly in the workings of a reality show so she wins the money. Because I’m sure the Almighty doesn’t have anything else to do this summer.

Eric. America’s Player – having a contestant do America’s bidding is a new twist I’m pretty ambivalent about. Might turn out to be good, but could get hijiacked into the bad kind of lunacy. So far, Eric seems like a smart player on his own – who knows whether the AP thing will interfere with that.

And the Chenbot. We can’t forget the Chenbot. They need to upgrade her - this model (especially with the Chelmet hairdo) is so thin it looks like a bobblehead. Other than that, she’s doing her usual excellent job and when I heard the first “but first” right out of the gate, I knew my summer was in good hands. Great homage here (be sure to click on the "but first" video).

Online resources: Schoonie and Flipit at TVGasm do killer recaps and the TVGasm forums give regular updates on the live feeds.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Random July

Quite some time ago, after having used a certain expletive in the post, a friend of mine told me that my chances of ever being deemed "family-friendly" had now gone the way of the dodo. So when I found a website where you can rate your blog, I was naturally all over that and yes, indeed - there is no G rating to be had. It seems to be based on the main page and can therefore fluctuate a bit. A couple weeks ago, The Seated View was rated R, earlier this week, it was PG (earned by one mention of the word “crap”).

Under the category of "compare and contrast". Willowtree illustrates an interesting dichotomy and in the New York Times, David Leonhardt puts together a shopping list of sorts.

I've just discovered Rare Bird Finds (which I found on a blog somewhere, although I can’t for the life of me remember where) – you subscribe by email and once a day, they send you a tip of where you can find funny and funky little doodads. Not always as useful as Cool Tools, but perfect for unusual gift ideas.

Nostalgic for the past? Missing those good old days? Now you can stay at a genuine replica of an East German hotel, complete with GDR furniture, portraits of various legendary leaders, etc. Personall;y, I’d abstain, seeing as I’ve already stayed in a genuine communist country hotel (remember Oskar?), but it sounds fun.

Various world statistics changing before your eyes.

Beautiful. Took a lot of paint. I’m so glad I wasn’t on the cleanup crew.

Via Ken, I discovered a test of your survival potential in case of a zombie attack. Based on this


I need to buy more canned goods.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Ghost Map

I find infectious disease fascinating. Not having it, mind you (thought I should clarify that), but transmission, history, properties, effects, the investigation process to determine origin and develop strategies to fight it - essentially, working for the CDC is on the short list of 'Occupations I Wish I'd Had'. This fascination expresses itself in what is probably an unseemly interest in biological disaster movies (I've seen Outbreak more than once – ‘nuff said), documentaries about same and lucky for me, there is a plethora of books on the topic. Thanks to having consumed The Hot Zone and Virus Hunter, in addition to numerous articles and television programs several years ago, I know an alarming amount about Ebola, even being able to discuss the determining characteristics of the filovirus, as well as the details of the outbreaks specific to Ebola Marburg, Reston and Zaire.

After spending months in a haze of undemanding entertainment B.H. (Before Humira), I've become increasingly thirsty for something that exercises my brain ever since I 'woke up'. To that end, I've decided to always have a non-fiction book on the go - I dip in and out of them in between various forms of fiction. Which is a very lengthy way of saying that I've just finished reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, an account of the pivotal 1854 cholera break in London during which a doctor named John Snow discovered how cholera is transmitted.

I like history and I find the Victorian age intriguing. Through reading about the era, I picked up on the fact that Victorian London was a very dirty due to the polluting effects of coalfires, but I’d never really thought of the storage (yes, storage!) and disposal of human waste. Now I know more. And boy, oh boy, must it have stunk. The book starts with a fascinating description of all the various occupations involved in some way with the process originating in Elizabethan times and continued in the more population dense industrial times of the 19th century. There were some truly disgusting jobs. Like nightsoilmen (who came to your house and emptied your cesspool) and bonepickers (quite literally what the name implies, these were people who travelled immense distances in a workday, looking through refuse for rags and bones they could sell – all kinds of good information here). Captivating and educational though this first part of the book is, orienting you to the conditions and squalor of the city, I highly recommend that you don’t read that bit in any immediate proximity to a meal. I’m not squeamish, but it made me nauseous (I’m pretty sure reading it on audiobook 'enhanced' the experience, although the narrator is amazing). Based on the description, it’s a miracle the human race survived industrialization.

The Ghost Map further describes the transition from agrarian society to the high population density cities and shows how infectious disease such as cholera changed to becoming utterly devastating - at the time, you could leave for the weekend and come back to see 10% of your neighbours being wheeled away in deathcarts due to an outbreak. We also spend quite some time hanging out in the small intestine, as well as taking a tour of the predominant theories of disease transmission at the time, the main one being the belief that “smell is disease”, in other words that smell is held within a miasma of infectious agents and therefore the main strategy to combat and prevent infection was to get rid of the smell. One of the brilliant applications of this theory involved pumping the city’s sewage into the Thames. Right where various water companies pumped in their water to distribute back to their customers. Yum.

Long story short, the book details the 1854 epidemic from “patient zero” to the end, following the people involved, be they victims or investigators and specifically focusing on John Snow, who through his research discovered that the contagion originated from a pump on Broad Street, which was then shut down, effectively ending the epidemic. Johnson calls it “the triumph of rogue science” (I can’t tell you how much that phrase tickled me) and it was the turning point in steering the development of epidemiology, public health, cartography and sanitation to the models used today. The book is an almost organic description of the empirical process, an education in how science works – it certainly felt organic, considering how much time is spent in the small intestine – and entertains while it educates. So much non-fiction is badly written (see Hot Zone, which although gripping is only gripping due to the subject matter, while I found myself repeatedly wishing for a better writer), but this reads like a fast-paced thriller – the pacing’s excellent and the writing is very, very good. It was a joy to read.

Highly recommended for geeks, history buffs and mystery lovers alike.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Casts & Characters

Just flyin’ by in between running errands, running my life, running my mother’s life (good god, I never realized how busy that woman is) and in general running around in circles like a puppy after its tail. My Inbox overfloweth - if I owe you an email, I’m working on a response that can be created while hurtling down the street (telepathy, maybe?) – if I owe you money, I’m planning to sell myself for medical experiments as soon as humanly possible and if I owe you a phonecall… well, I’ve had laryngitis for several days now and please hold until I get my voice back. Ditto if I owe you anything else in written form, as using a voice-recognition program is a smidge challenging if one’s voice is nothing but a croak (which explains why it’s taken me three days to write this post).

Stage II of the Road to Recovery commenced last Friday, when my mother moved to a convalescent area of a local nursinghome. Before she left the hospital, she was fitted with a new and much less intense pair of “really thick socks”

We plan to acquire a box of markers and encourage all visitors to create a set of casts unparalleled in the history of broken bones.

The nursinghome is located in a residential neighbourhood, three stories tucked between old homes and old trees (and old pavement – the drive there feels like driving on cobblestones). The building is in two wings, sprawling over a fair bit of land, but in a way that makes the size a surprise. Just as you think you’ve reached an end, there’s a hallway to somewhere else. It’s quite charming. There’s a lovely quiet library area, the sun filtering in through a large tree outside the window, bookshelves filled with the most eclectic collection I’ve ever seen, residents and visitors leaving books for future residents, running the gamut from science-fiction to classics to humour and so on.

Something puzzles me, though. In the winter, nursinghomes are kept pretty toasty. Makes sense – people wearing their indoor clothing, many older folks tend to get chilled and so on. Then how come in the summer, they keep it somewhere between cool and freezing? I’ve been there a few times now and always go home with toes like icicles to the point that I’ve decided to wear socks the next time I go and we’ll be bringing in a sweater for my mother. Now, for this next bit, I thought of hinting vaguely, but have decided against that, even if I feel really awkward about asking this. I suspect there may be a knitter or two reading out there and was wondering if someone might have some remnants in the stash that would make good cast/toe socks and wouldn't mind whipping up at pair. I'd be happy to pay for supplies and postage – if you’re game, please e-mail me at landers5 AT gmail DOT com.

The convalescent area is housed on the heavy care floor. Being the heavy care floor, the residents not temporarily housed while healing after an injury tend to be pretty incapacitated, both physically and cognitively. There are a lot of people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, folding in upon themselves, withdrawing off into another world. There are residents less impaired, but for whom you wish oblivion. Like Edith*, who is stuck in a 30-second loop of awareness, always sobbing helplessly in fear and frustration, unable to remember how to turn off the TV, when lunch is served and what on earth has happened to her life. Then there are those who putter about, seemingly content – or maybe resigned. Like George, who places three open boxes of sugarcubes on the seat of his walker. I imagine part of him is back in the war, during sugar rations and his three boxes lend him security.
And then there are the those clearly only here for physical reasons, their minds as clear as a bell, although somewhat less subject to social inhibitions (hey, advanced age gives you a free pass). Michele visited last weekend and on her way out, an older man entered the door as she exited. Naturally, they exchanged ‘hellos’ and the rest of the conversation went as follows:

Man: are those denim jeans you’re wearing?

Michele: Yes, it is.

Man: I like denim jeans. They’re comfortable.
Michele: They sure are.

Man: … and
sexy! What’s your name?

And then she ran for it.

*names have been changed

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Jockeying for Equality

Imagine you're a jockey. Imagine you work at the country's leading racetrack. Imagine that for the past two years, you have been the leading jockey at that racetrack. Imagine that the most prestigious, most important race of the year is coming up. Would it be reasonable to expect that as the leading jockey of the last two years, you might be picked to ride one of the favourites? Apparently, if you're Emma-Jayne Wilson and the race is the Queen's Plate at Woodbine racetrack, this expectation is so unreasonable it elicits soothing statements from other people in the business about "it's a matter of when, not if" and in the meantime, just be patient while they put the leading jockey of the last two years (or did I mention that already?) on a longshot while vaguely talking about politics, but in such a way that it looks like anybody else would have been in the same position. Shall we briefly imagined this happening to say, a male jockey who isn't white and expect that no one would be able to see the racism? Politics, my arse! Let’s call it what it is – sexism. How eminently satisfying then that Wilson and her longshot streaked past the favourites and won the race. Ha!

Then there is the recent article in the Toronto Star talking about sexual harassment, more specifically the question on when looking becomes a leer. The article spent some time outlining definitions and examples, presenting the points of view of women, quoting several who’d been subject to that nauseating feeling - because, if you are a woman, you know exactly the difference between a look that is discreet, appreciative and respectful and one that makes you want to take a shower for about a week – and in general does a pretty good job of presenting the issue (check out Hollaback Canada for a particularly satisfying look at women taking the power back from men who leer). Of course, the end of the article negates all that when the concluding remarks quotes the opinion of a construction worker who thinks that women should just "take it as a compliment" and wonders if the particular woman wandering by used as an example by the reporter is single. Furthermore, there is a prominent sidebar with a number of quotes by a sociology professor at MIT who claims about harassment that "We can agree that men should be respectful of women and not behave badly. But there is so much that's wrong in the world – child abuse, etc. Do we really want to give our attention to the relative harmlessness of a leerer? Clearly this is a bad thing and we need to educate men. But why not put the energy into working in a shelter for abused women?". Right. So leering and harassment are completely unrelated to abuse. Not surprisingly, this eminent expert is a man. He is professor emeritus and his name is Gary Marx. I may write him an irate email.

If you have not yet seen Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, stop reading now and skip straight to the comments because I am about to ruin a big part of the plot/ending for you.

Really, I mean it...

Last chance...

OK, here goes. So Elizabeth, our plucky heroine, who has clearly been fated from the very beginning not to get stuck in the narrow role set out for women at the time of the events in question, has become king of the Pirates and has commanded an entire fleet of pirates (about as easy as herding cats) against Beckett's armada, soundly trouncing the Endeavour and sending the rest of the armada scurrying for cover (while marrying Will in the middle of the battle, although I don't understand why she would, as they clearly have no chemistry, but that's besides the point) and now it's all over and… while Jack Sparrow is last seen off on an adventure to find the Fountain of Youth (in a dinghy, because Barbosa has stolen the Black Pearl. Again), Will strides heroically of into the surf to steer the Flying Dutchman on its mission to guide the souls that died at sea to the hereafter, Elizabeth will apparently spend the foreseeable future on a sandy beach taking “good care” of the chest containing Will's heart while gazing off into the sunset, waiting for her beloved to return. Can I just say how very much this bothered me? The entire trilogy actually had some pretty good messages for girls and then the ending completely blew that, firmly placing her exactly back in the very role she started in, when the entire series has been about her finding out that she was a pirate at heart, off to have adventures on the high seas. The third instalment of the Pirates series is not a terrific one, but I still had fun until that last moment and I am severely tempted to write Disney, demanding my money back.

I hate being patronized.

p.s. Apparently Haloscan, which I use for comments, is having some problems. Figures. On a post that might generate some invigorating debate and listings of patronizing arses who piss us off (which I was, quite frankly, looking forward to), the comments go kablooey. Sigh. Hopefully, they'll return soon. Please check back later.