Thursday, November 30, 2006

So this Québecois Politician walks into a bar....

Parti Québecois leader André Boisclair shows up in a comedy sketch on TV next month. Not an unusal thing in this country - our politicians do that sort of thing all the time and I don't just mean Parliamentary debates. The sketch is a take-off on Brokeback Mountain with Harper and Bush as the two gay cowboys. In a somewhat stitled report - why do I feel much of it was translated word for word from the French service - CBC says that Claude Béchard, a Provincial Cabinet Minister is outraged because he just wants "to be sure that all the Québecers will see us as serious people."

Claude, mon beau, wake up, you're a Québec politician - when the hell was the last time anybody took you seriously?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

No! Not Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush - the other one!

My friends Shirly and Jon showed up for dinner the other night and brought along a bottle of South African Red with one of those cunning names. It seems that New World - okay I guess South Africa doesn't count as New World so lets say Non-European - wineries are vying with each other for eye-catching marketing names. The above mentioned Cat's Pee being one of the more startling one. But it looks like Charles Back's Fairview Wine Estate, has gone beyond the purely puerile to take on the big boys in France.

A quick read of their website reveals some standard advertising puffery - embraces typicity of terroir, unrestricted by ‘estate' appellation - not for Fairview the brash vulgarity of the Antipodes. But a visit to their Goats Do Roam site reveals a sly sense of humour when it comes to marketing.

A few of folk at the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine don't see the humour. They feel that those of us not fortunate enough to have been born in France may be confused by the label. Bien sûr! I've always thought of the Côtes du Rhône region as being populated by African children who live in straw huts surrounded by goats!

So marketing aside and the mere fact that it would piss off those snots in the Rhône valley, would I buy a bottle or two on my own? Giving you a resounding yes on that. It went very well with the roast veal tenderloin and I could see it be a very nice compliment to an older bovine cut. Now I must try their Bored Doe!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hallmark Moments

Built in 1885 and all Victorian-gingerbread (tasteful gingerbread of course) our house was made for decorating at Christmas. And decorated it has been - swags of white-lighted garlands have festooned railings, red-bowed wreaths have hung at windows, boughs of holly have decked halls - it's been a virtual Hallmark card. But this year the decorations are going minimalist: 1 big wreath, 1 small one, red bows and lights - that's it! My supplier at the Parkdale Market was visibly shaken when I put in my order yesterday! She may have to cancel that winter vacation I normally pay for each November. The city will be disappointed too. For the second year running they didn't bother to put lights in the trees out front of the house.

The decorations will go up today - a week earlier than normal - and the weather is perfect for it. Unlike the past three years when it was -25 or blowing snow or both today is partly cloudy and 8. Of course the irony is that this year decorating should take all of 20 minutes - put the lights, bow and pine cones in the big wreath, hang it up; put the bow on the small one, hang it on the door. How complicated can it be? Hmm. I'll get back to you on that. (Bad estimate: try 2 hours - the hook for the wreath had been removed so I had to go out and get another one. And I couldn't find the only extension cord that fit. There is a reason I gave up my Project Management course! Posted by Willyam at 6:05 pm)

In other years it has been at the least a 4 to 6 hour struggle with evening-up balcony swags, wrapping frozen strings of lights around garlands and positioning things just so. Last year it took the better part of two days because of the cold - securing a bow can take 10 minutes when your bemittend fingers are frozen. Multiply that by 6 and there goes another hour of sunlight.

For the past four years a picture of the be-garlanded house from the year before has been taken, Photo-Shopped to a fare-thee-well and used as our annual Christmas card - this year's is printing even as I work on this post. As you see from the pictures, the spirit has always been traditional, almost Dickensian. I guess for next year's card we will have to consider Zen with a Haiku greeting.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fundacion del Estado para el Sistema Nacional de las Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela*

* The System

Last week the CBC reported on a classical music education programme in the barrios of Caracas and other cities in Venezuela. Started more than 30 years ago it is gaining worldwide attention because of the incredible caliber of musicians it is producing and its social benefits. This weekend's Guardian features a lengthy article on the System and its impact locally and internationally.

When I went to school - yes smart ass, we had schools back then - music was part of the curriculum until Grade 13. That seems to have ended in Canada just as this programme was starting in Venezuela - a touch of irony?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Candle in the Darkness

It has been 22 years this coming March since I lost my first friend to what was then known as the "gay disease." People didn't talk about it much or if they did it was with a "who cares, its only killing them" attitude. Fortunately attitudes have changed and people now know that AIDS does not differentiate sexuality, race, gender, age, geography or social status. With that knowledge - though sadly there are still people who believe it is God's punishment - comes the concern, the research and the funding to fight this epidemic. It comes too late for Pierre, Bill, Don, Jim, Lawrence and the others but hopefully it helps people who deal with the effects of AIDS daily and provide the education needed to stop its spread.

December 1st is World AIDS day and Bristol-Myers Squibb has agreed to donate $1.00 to the National AIDS Fund for every candle lit at LIGHT TO UNITE up to $100,000. This is a US based imitative. Unfortunately I could not find a Canadian equivalent, but AIDS does not recognize borders and neither should we.

Please take a moment to click on the red ribbon or on the link: light a candle - in memory of a friend, as a prayer for a friend or just because you care about others.

More than Yesterday But Less Than Tomorrow

Happy Anniversary Larry. It's been an incredible 29 years.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Haute Hanoi

This is one sight I'm glad I'm not going to see in Hanoi. Sometimes going native is not such a great idea!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Going to the Chapel - Beijing

Our friend Jack sent along this photo he took yesterday afternoon on the streets of Beijing. He says that it is a traditional Chinese wedding procession - these days it is not something you normally see except in movies. Apparently everything came to a standstill as it went past - even the normally chaotic Beijing traffic!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I received an e-mail from my niece Stephanie commenting on the blog and she mentioned that she was having difficulty reading the text on the dark background. My first thought was that it was a question of age not graphics - but after several views I thought she might have a point. So I'm trying a new format. I'm not sure I like the pinkish tinge - could be a bit too Freudian - but I may play around with the coding - if I can remember how to code. Not that that's a question of age!

And the picture of the most important guy in my life (sorry Larry you know the pack order around our house) on this post? No reason; just because Reesie deserves to be seen. And given a biscuit and a belly rub and an ear scratch and told how beautiful he is.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Hat in the Closet

Somewhere in a cupboard in Beijing there is a hatbox containing a very expensive hat - a real made-to-measure British Bowler. Yes a bowler - the favorite of Orangemen in Ulster, Bankers in the City, Max Sennett comics and little old ladies in Bolivia. It has perhaps only been seen on the head it was purchased for on two or three occasions but certainly not in the past 24 years.

What brought it to mind was a comment on CBC radio this morning that 156 years ago today James Lock & Co, St. James St, London sold the first bowler hat to Sir James Coke. It was meant to protect his gamekeepers from low hanging branches - and the butt end of a poacher's gun! The reason Laurent purchased one during our trip to London 25 years ago - that's as mysterious as why it's considered a bold fashion statement by the better-dressed ladies in the Andes!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's all very romantic - until you find the dry rot!

My hands have only just stopped shaking - I wrote the final cheque today for this past summer's renovations. Let's just say that the figure on the in the amount line would have fed a family of four for two years.

The original quote wasn't cheap but what drove it higher was the dry rot in the veranda ceiling. Can any one explain why dry rot is wet? Given that most of the supporting joists were more sponge than wood, it's a wonder I didn't fall through the floor last December while blithely decking the railings with boughs of holly! Of course, it may be that at -20 dry rot becomes rock solid ice rot. Memo to self: Put up this year's decorations a week earlier when you'll only get soaked through not frozen to the bone. Either way I'll probably get one of those colds that lingers through the entire winter.

We were lucky to find a contractor who understood historical restoration and did an incredible job. Luc and his guys used as much of the existing material as they could - restoring gingerbread, adapting railings and recreating details. Unfortunately when they pulled off the veranda ceiling the above horror (a double click with give you an idea of the real extent of the disaster) was revealed. Luc gave me a choice between a completely new veranda at $4500.00 that would last for 30-40 years or a solid repair job at $1600.00 that would last 20-25. The way I figured it 20-25 years from now I'll be in one room with a dresser, two chairs and a bed so the choice was an easy one. I must say the $1600.00 job looks like a million dollars. And the new windows and storm panels for the front dollar are perfect replicas of the original. Sadly that's the only problem when you restore a heritage home - all that work and money and the house looks just like it did before you started!

One word of advise to anyone thinking of buying a heritage home - and yes there are other fools out there who do that sort of thing: make sure you win a lottery and do it while you're young.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Not In Memoriam but in my memories

Sadly the upcoming trip means that I will not be able to attend the Memorial gathering for one of my oldest and closest friends, Ryan (Ron) Taylor. For those of us who loved him, his death this past October has meant our world has been diminished.

I met Ryan 31 years ago this summer just past. It was a bright sunny Sunday afternoon and I was walking down the canal in Ottawa whistling a Rossini aria. Suddenly one of the most melodious baritone voices (think Leonard Warren sings Verdi) I had ever heard said: Di tanti palpita - Tancredi. I knew that I had to become friends with anyone who recognized that piece of operatic ephemera.

And friends we became - despite living in different cities, often on different continents. It was the sort of friendship that meant we wouldn't see each other for a year or two but spoke, wrote (he was always better at it than I), or e-mailed once or twice a month. As with all friendships there were periods when a certain coolness developed. I recall a frosty ride on the Underground from Salder's Wells to Baker Street seated at either end of the carriage - the icy glares freezing unsuspecting Londoners in mid-doze over their late-edition Daily Mirrors.

But those periods never lasted very long and were quickly pushed aside by happier events. "The Lad" - as he always called Laurent, Ryan and I in MossBros tuxedoed splendor heading down to Glyndebourne on the afternoon train from Vic Station. Christmas Eve celebrated with family and friends in the McClaren St. apartment under the watchful eye of Queen Alexandria. Ryan avowed that the portrait was an early example of Photoshoping - Alex's head on a Tiller Girl's body. A sunny weekend in Cooperstown, happily combining two of his passions - opera and baseball. The Cracker - that odd mixture of Times Obit, book reviews, books-he-had-read quotes that arrived every Christmas. A surreal vodka-drinking visit to a political cabaret in Krakow - he was the only person I know who would take Polish lessons for a two week visit. Trashing all the singers but our beloved Ewa Podles over late night port and desert after the opera in Toronto. Simply sitting before diner on his last visit in May, listening to and revelling in the most infectiously funny recording of Perichole's drunk aria - in Russian!

A week after learning of his death I watched the first episode of his TV programme, Ancestors in the Attic . I wanted to reach into the TV and hug him for all those wonderful memories then slap him because he had robbed me of experiencing more. A gentle note from his cousin Dayle reminded me that the slap was a selfish reaction and the hug a loving one. Thank you Dayle - you're right, the hugging feels better.

In memoriam:

Dearest R
If you had any faults - and like all of us you did - the greatest was that you did not love yourself enough to realize how much you were loved. You are greatly loved. "The lad" and I miss you.
Your "darling boy"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

This, that and the other thing - 1

I wrote my first blog back in 2000 while working at the Warsaw Business Journal. I found my job there as web editor through one of my best friends, Bev Toomer. She, her husband Kev and Silver and Sobie - the real important ones - are family. Distant family at the moment as she is Afghanistan, he's in Sri Lanka and the pups are on Galiano Island. But that's a story for another time.

Back then I promised readers a daily update of ex-pat life in Poland. That promise was well-intentioned but more often than not it was a broken one. Blogging on a regular basis can be time consuming and lets admit it most of us don't have that much excitement in our lives that warrant a daily post. Basically I've started this blog to keep a record of our trip to Vietnam in December. We'll see how that works out.

By "our" I mean my partner Laurent and I. We have been together 29 years at the end of this month. He is a diplomat in the Canadian Foreign Service and has travelled extensively, so for a good (or bad depending on your point of view) 16 of that 29 we have lived in different cities. Could be the reason it has lasted 29 years! He is currently working in Beijing - two years down one more to go. We'll be meeting up in Hong Kong on December 5th and heading out to Saigon that evening. We haven't seen each other since our trip to Alaska (see above) six months ago so frankly the 5th can't come soon enough!