Friday, September 28, 2007

Overheated

I want winds from the north, I want bluster and brrr. I want to wear a sweater, to feel my toes icy cold once more, to yearn for a thick bean soup, so see my breath hang frozen in the air for a moment as I exhale.

I know. I’m insane. It’s been only two weeks since I complained about autumn having arrived. But it didn’t, after all, arrive. Instead, summer came back with a vengeance – 38 (100.4F) with the humidex Tuesday – and the airconditioning is turned off. Because the City of Toronto Municipal Code requires landlords to provide heat between September 15 and June 1. Because this is Canada and September gets cold. Except, it hasn’t. Again. Come to think of it, it hasn’t for years. So we swelter and as the building warms up, holding in the heat, making it warmer inside than out, we swelter some more. No air comes through the windows, the fans can only do so much and I’ve barely seen my poor (longhaired) cat in days – she hides in the closets, where it’s a tad cooler. Unfortunately, my closets are too small for me to get in there.

They forecast more of this. At least a week more and I love the extended summer, I really do, but I hate that it’s making me long for cold. Which I do. Fervently.

And therefore, as my brain has melted out my ears, I am incapable of blogging, reduced to sitting and sweating.

Send cold thoughts.

p.s. and please welcome my mother back to the comments – she got sprung this week!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Floral Encounters of the Third Kind

I used to live in the suburbs and although it's nice and green out there, there were some drawbacks to the geography that I didn't fully realize until I moved to an urban area. One of the main ones is that you have to drive everywhere you go. In the morning, you leave your house, get in your car (or WheelTrans bus), drive somewhere - let's say you’re going to the grocery store - do your shopping, get back into your car, drive home, take your groceries inside your house and often, you can both theoretically and actually spend days having only minimal interaction with other human beings besides your family. Wave over the fence to the neighbour, exchange hellos with the supermarket cashier, maybe smile at someone who holds the door for you at the mall, but that’s it. It’s a very high level of privacy.

Then I moved downtown. Most everyone walk or bike here, parking is incredibly expensive and if you both live and work downtown, it's actually easier to use mass transit. I should clarify a little, though. Although I technically live downtown, more specifically, I live in a very distinct small neighbourhood in the middle of downtown - a neighbourhood that I long ago took to calling a small town in a big city. Living here, it doesn't take long before you start recognizing people - not just your neighbours, but store clerks, humans and their canines in the dog park, the librarians, the street vendors, even the homeless and before you know it, you're interacting with a bunch of people every time you stick your nose out the door. It starts with a smile and a hello and with many people, it stays there and that's all right. But with others, you start chatting and before you know it, the librarian has become your friend, you've had coffee with the guy selling beautiful scarves from India, you chat to a woman as she progresses from being homeless to selling Outreach (a local newspaper sold by people in tight circumstances as – I believe and I could be wrong - a way of facilitating re-entry into the job market) to successfully getting back on her feet, someone’s corralled you into serving on a committee, you attend openings of neighbourhood gardens and this small area of the big city has become filled with friends and acquaintances that you see everyday. It has less obvious privacy and anonymity than do the suburbs, but there are more than one way of creating privacy and in 11 years of living here, I have yet to feel mine invaded.

Not too long ago, I was rattling down the street towards my mother's building to pick up her mail. It was an awful day - started out wrong and kept deteriorating to the point where it had solidly gotten the better of me. It was a nice day, weather-wise, but I was thoroughly focused inward, undoubtedly looking tired and upset. I'd already passed a few people I recognized, but today was not a day where I had done anything but the most cursory of acknowledgments. We all have days like that and people around here are good at respecting their neighbours' quiet days. I was only a few minutes from my destination when coming towards me was a man I’ve seen many times around the area - he's hard to miss, about 10 years older than I and has a most magnificent beard - but we've never progressed beyond the acknowledgment of familiarity. He was dragging along a small trolley on which had been placed one of those apple bushel basket things filled with autumn flowers in a riot of colours. We passed each other and then I heard someone say "hold on!" and there being nobody but me in the vicinity, I turned around, thinking that maybe I'd dropped something. He was bending down, holding up his finger as a sign for me to wait and when he stood up again and came towards me, he handed me flowers. I laughed and laughed, said thank you and we exchanged a smile (okay, so mine was more of a grin), turned around and went our separate ways.

It was a much better day after that.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Morality

I didn't post yesterday because the melancholy of the weekend transmogrified itself into a spectacular case of pissy and everything I had to say was either damply negative or stupidstupidstupid (me? PMSing? Whatever gave you that idea??). I therefore followed the advice of Thumper's mother and decided that since I didn't have anything nice to say, I wouldn't say anything at all. That is, until I read the paper and found a handy target for my wrath.

Canada is mostly a wonderful place to live, but it is not perfect. We have our share of people whose actions just make you go ‘huh??”. The latest in this bunch – and I apologize for the imminent incoherent sputtering and unbridled judgement – is various and sundry Catholic School Boards across Ontario. Yes! Look at me wading into religion and politics!

But first a wee preamble. I am not an expert, but what I can glean is this: HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. According to the Ontario Ministry of Health, “The HPV vaccine is close to 100 per cent effective in protecting against four types of high-risk HPV strains, two of which are responsible for about 70 per cent of cervical cancers. The other two are responsible for about 90 per cent of genital warts. The vaccine is most effective if given before exposure to the virus”. Cervical cancer kills 400 Canadian women annually and makes the lives of many others miserable. The Ontario government has recently implemented a vaccination program against HPV, made available to all grade 8 girls in the province, administered through schools. And this is where it gets asinine. Not that I have a strong opinion or anything.

Catholic school boards are receiving complaints about this vaccination program. Apparently, many consider that the vaccine gives students a signal of support for premarital sex and the trustees of the Huron-superior Catholic school board believe, according to trustee Regis O'Connor, that "as a Catholic school board, we are very, very aware that this is a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease and that giving it means children are going to be promiscuous" (my emphasis). Therefore, many Catholic schoolboards are reviewing motions to ban the program.

Now, whether this HPV vaccine is a good idea is some thing for experts to debate - I don't know enough about it to issue an opinion. Health Canada, the Ontario government, the CDC and I suspect a number of other organizations all endorse it. Some experts feel that not enough is known about the vaccine, although the concerns listed in the article I linked to it seemed to be the kinds of concerns that are easily outweighed by the chance of saving lives. Which is my point.

I have my opinion about teenagers being sexually active. Others have different ones and I fully respect those opinions. However, I have problems with blocking efforts to save lives. It reminds me of when my sister was in highschool during a time where the North American world had begun to get its head out of its arse about HIV, realizing that it was not just “the gay cancer” and had started doing something about trying to reduce the spread of the virus (the vile, vicious, unconscionable (in)actions of said world during the time of ignoring HIV are beautifully documented in And the Band Played On, a book that made me apoplectic with fury. Odd thing to serve as a recommendation, but it’s very good). One of those somethings was a plan by public school boards to install condom machines in highschool bathrooms. A move that didn't happen, as the community got their knickers in a knot about how it would “encourage promiscuity”. And for months, I ranted on a daily basis about the ignorance, shortsightedness and downright stupidity of this. The fact is this: teenagers are going to have sex. I think that the role of adults is to try to help them do so safely, both emotionally and physically. Part of such efforts may be having an open communication with teenagers about delaying sex until they are emotionally ready (or married, whichever works for your beliefs). Another part - in my opinion - is to give them the tools to have sex safely, should they decided to do so. That includes information on birth control. Admittedly, my view is coloured by my country of origin, where we have sexuality and birth control education in grade 7 (yes, even 30 years ago when I was that grade) and in general are rather more relaxed about such things. I once read a study that said that the rate of teenage pregnancy in Scandinavian countries is vastly smaller than the North American one. Coincidence? I think not. Much as we might like to believe that preaching abstinence will automatically cause any and all adolescents to save themselves for marriage, the facts are in. Abstinence programs don't work. Teenagers will have sex. Not all of them, but some.

And this is where I get stuck. I simply don't understand the continued blind investing in the abstinence approach to the exclusion of other information. Sure, talk to the kids about delaying, hope they delay, support them to delay, but don't leave them without a safety net if they don’t. I find it incredibly offensive that the commitment to the chastity principle, or the no premarital sex or whatever you want to call it, can be so strong that powers/organizations/people take away life-saving tools in the name of “morality”. And it's not just teenagers - AIDS is an pandemic in Africa. HIV transmission can be blocked by condom use. Catholicism is the fastest-growing religion on that continent. The Catholic Church will not advocate the use of condoms. Projections about the AIDS pandemic in Africa indicate that this entire continent may be wiped out. Wiped out!

How is that moral? How is that ethical? How is a faith-based rejection of condoms or HPV vaccines Christian? Principles are all fine and good and lord knows, I have a few myself. One of which being that we, as civilized human beings, have a moral obligation to try to help others to live the best lives they can, which in my opinion means trying to prevent awful diseases – at home and on the other side of the earth. Teach your children what you want, tell them that it is important they don't have sex before marriage, but don't be naïve enough to believe that some of them might not give into their hormones. If they don't, terrific, but if they do, wouldn't you rather have them safely de-virginized than dead (yes, I am aware that HIV infection is no longer a automatic death sentence - unfortunately, at the time my sister went to highschool, it was)? That's what it comes down to, isn't it? Wouldn't you rather have your child be sexually active than HIV-positive, which is still not a nice disease to have? Wouldn't you rather have your daughter protected than sitting by her bedside later, while she fights cervical cancer? I am not a parent, but in light of those questions, I cannot imagine saying that my principles are more important than doing everything I can to help my child be as healthy as possible.

Am I wrong?

Monday, September 17, 2007

End of Summer Thoughts

It was a weird weekend, two days of endings and a strange melancholy.


Autumn came this weekend, with brisk winds, jackets over summer clothes and cold feet, firmly shoving summer into the past. Still, I refuse to wear socks and took refuge in my fiesta shawl, wrapping my legs in handknit comfort, blocking the gale sneaking its way under my front door from the hallway vent. Cupping my hands around a mug of something hot, I sat by my window, looking out on the transition clouds, still the fluffy white of summer, but tinged with a heavier grey, promising rain and wind and the stripping bare of trees.



Outside, the wind has a new bite and flocks of pigeons gather, puffing up and hunkering down on the grass dotted with leaves. The construction is finished and my neighbourhood has beautiful new sidewalks, black, bouncy asphalt and bright white stripes has been painted for crosswalks. Wandering down the street, my hair blowing in front of my eyes, moving from patches of sunlight through lengthening shadows, you can feel the ticking of summer' s clock coming to an end.


Big Brother, too, is ending - it's all over but the voting and I prepared to say goodbye to a glorious summer obsession, the most compelling of them all, the most controversial and divisive of them all. For the first time, I'm going to miss some of these people in my television, wonder how they are, what they’re doing, if they're happy. It's September and tomorrow's last episode will be official notification that it's time to get back to work, that it's time to get something done again.


For days now, I've had an urge to go to Staples, to buy pens and paper, highlighters, file folders and organizational doodads and this urge, more than any other emotion or event, is a sign that summer is almost done. 27 years of starting over in the ninth month have had an impact and I feel ill prepared for the new year without a pile of supplies bolstering my plans.



There are no endings without beginnings, but I am not ready to let go.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Perchance to Dream

I had a stellar day yesterday. I’d checked my e-mail, had progressed to having a cuddle with the cat while talking to mor when, at the last possible moment, I realized that I didn't have time for a slow start to the day. Babbling something along the lines of "got a meeting, gotta go, bye!", I hung up and ran out the door, barely making it on time. I then progressed to ask very blonde questions and subsequently, making a silent promise to myself never to schedule meetings before my soul has had a chance to catch up with the rest of me. After having done a quick grocery run, during which I forgot half of my list, I suddenly realized that it was Dawn's birthday. Grabbed the phone, quickly dialed the number and when she picked up, enthusiastically and very off key sang the Danish birthday song. At the beginning of the second line, I realized that her birthday is in fact today, not yesterday (tillykke med fødselsdagen, Dawn!), but I completed the song nonetheless - hey, it was her birthday in Australia, so it counts. So since I apparently spent most yesterday in a state of half asleep, it seemed fitting to speak of dreams.

A couple weeks ago, on Dooce, I saw this great link about mundane dreams, like "I am at work, wearing my clothes". I don’t have ‘em. Mundane dreams, that is. Never did. For instance, earlier this week, I dreamt about polygamist settlers in the 1800s in some sort of inhospitable environment, gearing up for battle. Maybe it was about the Mountain Meadows massacre, although I wonder how my brain came up with that – it’s been a while since I read about that particular bit of American history.

I do that a lot. Wonder how my brain comes up with what it does when I drift off to sleep. For a while, I even thought of the 'why' of it, but mostly, I just sit/lie back and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is.

I used to bodyhop in my dreams, by which I mean that I was very rarely myself . Instead I would enter whatever body was appropriate to the context - I've been women, men (although, only rarely), I've been a vampire, an alien and once, I was even a dog. That's just the beginning, we haven't even started on the action yet. There has been attacks by demons housed in the body of a Jack Russell terrier, hot air balloon rides at sunset through the Australian outback, for awhile, I hung out with Russell Crowe a lot in my dreams - alas, it was always completely platonic, although Daniel Craig is, based on his appearance in a recent dream, a damned good kisser. Never have I cursed an alarm clock more. I've been in battles in space, lost in the Amazon, hunted by spiders, levitated (that was really cool), ridden horses, had children, time travelled, visited with my dead, barrelled down a highway in a snowstorm, pursued by evil soldiers and you get the picture. All in Technicolor. I'm pretty sure that my need for adventures that require physical participation is met during these kinds of dreams.

These days, the body hopping doesn't happen that often. I am mostly myself in dreams and when I need to do something I know I can't, the dream just sort of shifts and skips that bit. I love the way your mind gets around reality when you're dreaming.

For the longest time, I didn't have recurring dreams and was a little put out about it - it sounded neat. My first recurring dream happened during a period of a few years in my 30s where I dreamt of being able to breathe under water. I never found out what that was about, although it felt significant. As I've grown older, there are a couple of recurring themes that happen in specific situations. When I'm under a lot of stress, feel like my life is out of control, but haven't quite admitted it to myself yet, I dream of tornadoes. When I discovered the connection, it became a really handy tool for knowing when I need to make some changes. I have another type of dreams where I keep going, but never get anywhere - that one happens during intense relationship problems and reminds me that I've done everything I can and need to get out.

Some people say they can't remember ever dreaming and I feel bad for them - every night, my brain entertains me with movies made up of scattered impulses from the day (it’s why I don't read scary books too close to bedtime), movies that are more fantastical, wonderful and often more demented than anything I can come up with in the waking state. It's why I've never done any kind of hallucinogens – if this is what my mind comes up with unaided, I don’t want to think about what’d happen while under the influence.

And now it's your turn. Tell me about your dreams.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

After the Wedding

It took longer than I'd expected, but I finally got around to watching my birthday present to myself, the Danish movie called After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet), directed by Susanne Bier. And I loved it.

Mads Mikkelsen - probably best known on this side of the pond for his role as the villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale - plays Jacob, an aid worker in an Indian orphanage, who in order to receive funding, must return to his native Denmark where he meets the possible benefactor. And then things get complicated. The benefactor, Jørgen, is married to Helene, someone Jacob used to know and that's just the beginning - I'll avoid a further synopsis, as I think the movie is better if you know very little going into it.

One of the things that I found very enjoyable in this movie was watching Mads Mikkelsen act in his native Danish – a language and culture that tends to happen at a less effusive level than North American English - both verbally and nonverbally. Watching him flesh out this character of melancholy, idealism and passivity made me appreciate what a subtle actor he is. The other performances are equally terrific, especially Rolf Lassgård, who portrays the billionaire with a sense of entitlement and ease of rule like that of a feudal lord. However, the other actors are never less than wonderful, seemingly effortlessly portraying what happens in relationships, how people interact when they know each other and, without revealing too much, this movie contains the most precise and authentic depiction of uncontrolled despair I have ever seen on screen.

The movie is filmed with swift cuts, intensely close, almost abstract, close-ups of faces, facial features, body parts and these cuts and focii at once intensify the emotion portrayed and forces you to enter the deep, past the surface of the action and the story, and right into hearts and souls of the characters, as well as the ideas explored in the movie. The story itself could be called melodrama, but the excellence of the acting, combined with in the excellence of Bier’s direction makes it real and at times harrowing. Remember Dogme ‘95? The Danish movement to strip away the fake, the special effects, the enhancements of moviemaking and which in stripping the polish off the product, created films that became more immediate, more authentic. One of my favourite Dogme movies is The Celebration (Festen), a heart wrenching and brutal exploration of the secrets below the surface (I made Ken watch it and afterwards he said, shaken, that it was "very Danish" - I'm still not quite sure what he meant). Although Bier does not conform completely to the ideals of Dogme - I've seen this movie described as "Dogme Light" - the movie retains enough of the elements in this approach to achieve the same authenticity and immediacy, making the characters and the situations in which they find themselves seem very, very real.

Of course, the familiarity of the Danish language and environment probably sucked me in faster then a non-Danish person, but I don't think my absorption in this movie was exclusively due to that. And while we're talking about the Danish, I'm going to go off on a little rant. I saw a review that mentioned the “ambivalent” ending and I am quite frankly at a loss as to what is ambivalent. Unless the writer (and unfortunately, I forget where I found it) means the future of the relationship between Jacob and Helene and if that’s it, let me just say how ridiculous a statement that is. This movie is about everything else but that – it’s about trust, secrets, control, ethics, being lost, being found, not about love, but Love and who ends up shagging who is completely irrelevant. It drives me nuts sometimes, this incessant North American need for the happy ending, where everything’s all tied up neatly with a bow. Life isn’t like that – why should art be? Don't get me wrong, I have previously talked about my unabashed fondness for romance novels, because every now and again, you need the guarantee of a happy ending - it's the literary version of comfort food (preferably comfort food that's not nutritionally balanced) and the same goes for movies. Every now and again, you need fluff, something sort of unchallenging that will make you feel good, a neat package, tied with gold string. But not all the time. Art shouldn't just be pretty - it should portray and explore the ambivalence of life, the choices and motivations of people, it should challenge you, make you think and feel, change you. Which is why movies like Balls of Fury isn't art, but After the Wedding is. Go get it and let me know what you think. And p.s. – get The Celebration while you’re at it, but resist all impulses to read a review. Many reviews reveal too much and you don’t want to know certain crucial elements of the story before you watch it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Random September

The latest fashion weird – no-heel, suede boots (like Ugg and derivatives) with a little summer dress. Huh?? Isn't one of the delights of summer that you don't have to wear boots? And why on earth would you do something like that when it's hot?? Also, tubetops and variations on in the strapless top. Wasn’t that bad enough the first time around? Am I the only one who thinks whatever alleged hotness you achieve by wearing one such top is negated by constantly having to tug it up?

If you want to feel like an old, uncoordinated, total slacker – oh, and amazed - watch some sports acrobatics. Unbelievable, stunning, insane.

I'm very much looking forward to the new version of The Bionic Woman and will definitely check it out once it shows up on my television. Test your bionicness (if that's not a word, it should be) here. Apparently, I need a reinstall. And sort of related, Ting Lee over at TVGasm in the article on the new fall shows, predicts the show will last because “People love a deformed hot chick”. Works for me!

On the musical front, there was a reason anniversary of Elvis's death (wouldn't it be better to celebrate his birthday?). I found this and wholeheartedly agree with the writer that it very well may be "the hottest thing I've ever seen" (there might've been steam coming off my monitor). And Annie Lennox has a new single out called Dark Road - her voice and a piano. How simple. How radical.

Trevor sent me this excellent and very funny link to an explanation of the subliminal reassurances of procedurals.

Weird animals. Very weird animals. I think my favourite is the Aye-Aye. Or maybe the Star-nosed Mole. Although, the Axolotl is cute, too... What's yours?

Sometimes, I really, really miss Denmark.

If you haven't seen this latest excellent example of the gifts a good education can provide, watch it here.

And lastly, yet another silly test, supposedly measuring how dumb you are.

How smart are you?

Apparently, I'm a total geek, because after I took it, I wanted to sit down and have a serious conversation with its creator(s) regarding the multitude of studies should proving racial bias in IQ test, the difference between intelligence and being well informed and how I in general would have more faith in the validity of the test if it didn’t spell ‘independence’ wrong. And to prove the nerdiness, Willowtree very obligingly posted this link, which resulted in

NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber Cool High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labour Day Weekend

One of the (many) great things about living in my lovely little downtown neighbourhood is the combination of almost smalltown quiet and largetown happenings. For instance, in July, I can hear the Molson Indy, a fact which has persuaded me to never go, because if I can hear it here, I don’t want to think about how loud it is over yonder. Which brings us to the last long weekend of the summer (by the way? It’s not officially Fall until the 21st and I intend to live in denial until that date or beyond, only admitting that summer might be on its way out the day I have to wear socks again). It’s the last days of The Ex, which means the airshow, which means three days of me sitting outside, craning my neck to attempt to catch glimpse of the planes (especially the fighter jets) as they buzz my neighbourhood on their way to the turn before they fly back west, towards the CNE. This year, I brought my camera and my days went something like this:

I started in the park, listening to The Subtle Knife (acquired, along with #3, the instant I finished The Golden Compass). Or that was the intention, anyway, but it’s too distracting. By the time the first sign of them getting closer – mumblings, then a moment later, sky-splitting thunder - makes it past the headphones, it’s too late. So I entertained myself in other ways


What is it about scratch tickets that’s so much fun?
I's completely adddicted - and in this particular case, an A away from winning $10,000. Argh!

There’s always things to look at in the park. A man and his horse… er, I mean, his dog came by and I watched as he threw yellow tennis balls and the dog happily chased them again and again and again

While repeatedly attempting to snap a picture as the jets rumbled overhead, I managed to capture a whole lot of sky (this being merely one of a set of 17. At least)


I forget who started the picture of the sky movement, likely because I’m not as deeply immersed in the world of knitting blogs as I could be - there’s only so much knit porn one can handle before restraint flies out the window and there’s unseemly diving headfirst into an orgy of soft, yummy yarn and coloured needles and cabled socks, strawberry hats and lacy shawls and… erm… where was I?
Am i the only one who got a little flushed there? Anyway, Sandy, was it? Maybe? So, while waiting for the jet that I heard, but never saw, I played around with my camera and I discovered that my hair is redder than I thought it was


And then I got a brilliant idea, inspired by a recent photo of Morgan’s eyes posted by John (I don’t know why I can’t link to a specific post, but scroll down until you find the post from August 29, called "... But No bears Yet"). Or perhaps it’s only brilliant when you’ve been lurking under a tree for an hour for the second day in a row, waiting for a fighter jet to zoom by and in sheer boredom spent some time taking close-ups of your eye. Then, after seeing the result, briefly lamented my Scandinavian heritage of fair everything, considered starting to wear mascara again and ultimately decided I can't be bothered. Anyway, back to the great idea. How about starting the “new” year – after eons in school, September will always be the real new year to me - in supreme silliness by all posting pictures of our eyes? Who’s with me?

Anyone??

Speaking of orgies… after frustrated hunting, the reward is my favourite dessert, consumed on a daily basis. I love summer.


And at the last possible moment, success