Monday, December 20, 2010

So that's why Canadian Citizenship Applications take so long.

Canada House on Tafalgar Square. I should probably blog about that trip too, eh?

Somewhere in the further reaches of a Scots-infested island in Eastern Canada, the decision was made. Using an ostentatious feather plume pen that was used by Chevallier de Drucour to sign the surrender of Louisbourg in 1758, the nameless functionary filled out the form in front of him using the words originally composed by a commitee of Robert Service, Leonard Cohen and Margaret Laurence. He signed the paper in front of him with an ink made from material from the Sydney Tar ponds and juice from Joey Smallwood's greenhouse cucumbers.

The sheet of paper was then put aboard the fastest transport available, the original Bluenose, which had been recovered and from its resting place under the seas near Bermuda for just this purpose. Under full sail, it raced past Prince Edward Island, docking in Charlottetown only long enough to bind the paper in the remains of the ribbon that was cut to open the Confederation Bridge.

On arrival in Montreal, the paper was embossed with its official seal, which was made not of wax but of maple syrup and ashes from one of Réné Lesvesque's cigarettes. This was stamped with an embossed hockey puck still bearing the mark from Rocket Richard’s shot that won the Stanley Cup for the Habs in 1952.

From Montreal, the document was sent on to Ottawa, where it rested for three days in the foyer of the Parliament Building, under the gaze of portraits of Baldwin, Lafontaine and all of the Prime Ministers. After being photographed for posterity with the same camera Youssuf Karsh used to capture the image of a scowling Winston Churchill, it was sealed in the very envelope that carried the original British North America Act from Westminster to Canada.

Onward on its journey: the envelope and document arrived in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by the statue of Terry Fox. A smidgen of snow was taken from his curly bronzed hair and melted, and used to wet a small brush made from a beaver fur and the bone of a moose consecrated by a Cree medicine man. With that brush, the the glue was wetted and the envelope sealed.

Across the Prairies the journey continued, over rails laid by abused and fearful Chinese and past fields planted by hopeful Dukhobours, over the Rockies to British Columbia, where the stamp was applied using the very hammer that drove the last spike. Finally, it was put in the regular post, with a salute from a corps made up of drummers from Rush, the Tragically Hip, the Guess Who and Blue Rodeo. It has now arrived at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles, which has sent me a letter to let me know: Sana is now a Canadian Citizen. Huzzah!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Remembrance Day: They who question also serve

Every year I try to write a Remembrance Day post (or Veteran’s Day, as it is called here, which I feel gives the whole thing a rather different flavour). They’re generally pompous, except when they’re about buying new baby-manglers , but I’m going to go with informative this time (well, informative and pompous).

I can’t claim to be an expert on the military, nor do I feel comfortable saying Remembrance Day is “about” one thing or another. But I have always felt the emphasis that is placed on honouring those who are “willing to die for their country” is misplaced: it is far more horrifying to me that we ask our soldiers to kill for their countries. Especially if, inevitably, they should end up killing the wrong people, for the wrong reasons.

I’ve only written a couple of articles for The Beaver Canada’s History that touch on military history, but in both I was struck by the essential seriousness of senior military men about what they do, as contrasted with the sometimes flippant way politicians treat their responsibility for the lives of their citizens and of other countries.

For instance, there once was what amounted to a civil war in a country very far away. Canada had no interest there at all, but we were told by allies, who we thought were in a position to know, that our help was needed to combat an internationally coordinated threat that stood in opposition to every freedom we in the West held dear.

Our allies had bad intelligence. We sent our soldiers to a hostile environment, unprepared, under equipped, and essentially asked them to take sides in a conflict in which we did not understand either of the combatants. As a result, we ended up propping up an illegitimate and oppressive government, and contributed to the deaths of untold civilians. The threat, in the end, was less part of an international, anti-Western movement as it was an indigenous uprising.

The threat I am talking about was not terrorism, the country was not Afghanistan. Our troops were not called on to call in airstrikes on weddings. But in 1932, because of a panicky British ambassador in El Salvador who saw Communists behind every lamp-post, the Canadian navy was ended up providing support to a military dictator who took Mussolini as an inspiration, had come to power in a coup only three months before, and was recognized as legitimate nowhere (except, oddly, Norway).

The two Canadian ships had been sent by Canadian politicians who weren’t entirely sure where El Salvador was, and didn’t care to find out. They had been told the country was being overrun by Communists, and they believed it. They were told good English speaking plantation owners – Brits, Americans – were being murdered in their beds, and they believed it. They were told lies.

Victor Brodeur, the Captain with a conscience
Image from:

The Captain of those ships – a French Canadian called Victor Brodeur – was able to tell them the truth after the fact. He told them the vicious dictator of El Salvador was able, because Canadian vessels were securing his western port, to free up his own troops. Those soldiers were able to massacre 40,000 Pipil natives, essentially wiping out a group that formed the labour force of the British and American owned plantations and that were treated worse than dirt in the country. Venturing out into the countryside (something British ambassador that had demanded military intervention had never done) Brodeur saw that the uprising had consisted of burning some farm buildings – no plantation owners were killed, no infrastructure damaged. Shown the massacre site by some proud and preening Salvadoran generals a few days later, it was revealed that exactly one Communist party membership card was found among the corpses – many of whom were wearing white sheets, now splattered in blood, in the vain hope they would be spared death as non-combatants.

Brodeur, conscious of what his country’s actions had wrought, wrote all of this in his report to Ottawa on his return. There was no follow-up from the politicians that had sent him there, no complaints to Britain, no international censure for El Salvador. However, in an example of the high seriousness of Canadian Parliamentary Democracy that has sadly only been matched since, one far-sighted and noble MP did bravely rise in the House of Commons to complain about the cost of the fuel the ships consumed to get there.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Kool Aid? Don't mind if I do.

I’m not very familiar with Feng Shui, nor do I believe the little I know, but Amynah and I have noticed that certain apartments seem to have effects on how we live and socialize entirely independent of their size, location, and layout.

We’d noticed it in Montreal: in one apartment in the Outremont neighbourhood, Amynah would socialize constantly, and we would frequently go out for evening walks. In another larger apartment one block further away, she never invited anyone over at all.

Of course, we don’t realize the effect our apartment is having on until we leave. Our first apartment in Los Angeles was wonderful: one block from the local park, awesome neighbours in the building, two large bedrooms, hardwood floors, lots of light, close to all sorts of amenities.

While still a lovely place, our new apartment has almost none of those advantages. As an added disincentive to socializing, it comes with free cable.

Yet for some reason, we’ve already had more people over for dinner here in a month than we managed in a year in our previous place, and we’ve resumed our evening walks that had been a part of our routine everywhere else we lived. My theory is that we're trying to maintain a connection with the outside world.

Overall the new place is… nice. It’s run by UCLA for the benefit of those students and post-docs with families, meaning everyone here has the same employer, is in the same life circumstances, and have children roughly the same age. It’s called the University Village but, as it is a controlled access facility surrounded by iron gates and cement walls, I call it the compound. In essence, here we're fish in a heated aquarium, trying not to forget the taste of the ocean.

Behind the metal bars, we all live in a series identical adjoining apartment buildings, distinguished only by the differences in their communal playgrounds. There, children frolic happily throughout the day while parents chat and use the shared barbecues. The numerous flower beds are watered every morning, and everyone smiles and nods at one another as we negotiate our strollers past each other on the well swept walkways.

Many of the residents are internationals, and most of these are Indian or Chinese, most of whom appear to have their grandparents tending the children. In the playground closest to us, there appears to be an informal deal in which the Indian families occupy the facilities for one hour, then the Chinese grannies will arrive and sit and gossip while their descendants play. I’ve not quite figured out where Sana fits into all of this, but all camps seem fairly friendly to us both.

It’s also extremely well organized – there are occasional parties for the kids, there are English lessons for international students, there’s a hard-to-get-into daycare. They look after the details too: for Hallowe’en the residents' committee even circulated signs to every apartment that you could hang by your door to indicate whether you were participating or not.

All of this is so perfectly idyllic that it pushes into creepy territory, leaving us no other conclusion other than that there must be something darker going on under the surface. Amynah is convinced it's a façade masking a pulsating mosrass of sexual tension as in Melrose Place, although the most likely candidates for such hijinks are the various visiting grandparents. For my part, I keep looking around for piles of stones with which the residents express their darker urges a la "The Lottery." As such, I have been very careful not to buy the residents' committee’s raffle tickets.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow...

Be alarmed now:

Los Angeles loves Hallowe'en. The above was relatively understated by neighbourhood standards, but my favourite by far. Makes my efforts look pretty week by comparison.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Proof I am not crazy.

Long time readers of this blog might remember way back in the day when I lived in France, I biked 160 km (100 miles) motivated largely by the prospect of eating a Burger King Whopper? And then, thanks to train schedule disruptions, failed to eat said burger?

I find out (thanks to the very funny Penelope Jolicouer ) that to go to such lengths is not unusual for the Whopper bereft French (watch to the end):

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No, YORE a hoser.

A Canadian Navy destroyer, at dock in Halifax

I’m not sure how it happened, but I have apparently developed a strong “Canadian” (sub-set: “Maritime”) accent.

It’s highly unusual, I believe, to develop an accent late in life like this, but I am fairly certain I never had an accent before. In all the twenty-odd years I lived in Nova Scotia, I didn't have one, right? Six years in Montreal, no mention at all - surely someone would have told me if i had an accent right?

In France a few people mentioned my accent, but I think most of them thought I was speaking strangely when compared to our mutual British friend who clearly does talk with a funny accent, one of the many disadvantages of learning English on that isolated island.

On arrival in California, one or two people, upon learning that I was Canadian would raise an eyebrow, as if to say “that explains it” but I just thought it was in reaction to my overwhelming politeness, bewilderment at Fahrenheit, or smugness in the face of the local “cold.”

Then I was hired at UCLA. Once more, I find myself giving regular interviews, and hearing myself on tape as I transcribe them. Of course hearing myself on tape while speaking to French people revealed nothing to me about my accent. But in a direct comparison against Americans, who almost speak real English, (despite their aversion to the letter “U”) I realized (realised?) that I sound like I hail from Ecum Secum

For instance: where the locals pronounce the contraction of “we are” are “weer” I am only able to pronounce it as “whirr.” Similarly, the people here pronounce “your” more-or-less like “yoor” while my pronunciation is closer to “yore.”

Those are only the words that jump out at me, and jump out they do: it’s an odd phenomenon to suddenly realize that what I thought was my completely neutral manner of speech now sounds makes me sound to my own ear like I should be yelling at my crew to be pulling in the nets because a Nor’easter’s blowin’ in.

Not to comment troll or anything, but how many of you that have spoken to me have noticed my accent before? How many of you ever hear your own?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Remember me?

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

When Sana was born I made a vow to myself that I wasn’t going to let this blog be taken over by all the cutesy adorable things that she does, both because a) I believe the View of the Marching Fishes brand, such as it is, appeals to a sophisticated audience that wants to read about my falling off of bikes and failing to find Vicious Wild Hamsters and b) I’m already doing the Daddy-blogging thing over here (or at least someone leading my life but with differently-named wife and daughter is writing over there).

Given that almost nothing in my life occurs without Sana, it’s hard to find things to write about that meet my fairly strict criteria (I saw Inception though! Highlight of the year so far! Anyone want to talk about it?) I also went to Nova Scotia, and I’m sorry I missed pretty much everyone I know there.

So, why am I writing now? Well, a sufficient number of hilariously bad things have happened to me this week, but I think the baby’s stirring, so I can only list them point form:

1) My work visa expires next week, so I will be out of a job, until it is renewed.

2) It might not be renewed until October.

3) I am way behind on the newsletter I need to finish before I am out of my job, and so, need to work all weekend.

4) My work computer (with the entire newsletter on it) died last night, and is now in the shop. I don’t think this is going to help my “please re-hire me” case.

5) This means I had to go to the nearest Apple store and get service at their “Genius Bar.” I’m still trying to get the smell of smug out of my cloths.

6) We renewed our lease here just before leaving. On our return, we discovered we’ve been accepted into subsidized post-doc housing at UCLA, meaning we have to break said lease.

7) It also means we have to get out of here by September 1. We can’t move into the new place until September 10.

8) We have no friends to help us move.

9) Sana is teething, and appears to either have a cold, or a tributary to the Mississippi in her nose. She’s been an adorable crawling ball of tears and mucus all week.

At some point, I’m going to write a proper post (though lord knows on what. One potential topic: Did anyone know I have a Canadian accent? Why did no one tell me before?)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Leonard Cohen, Children's entertainer

This last week, Amynah’s been working like a maniac on a grant, and so I’ve had more Sana duty than usual. Sana seems to require a lot of stimulation to keep her not-bored and therefore not-cranky, and I’ve run out of ideas to keep her distracted: she figured out “peek-a-boo” for the scam it is a while ago, and is no longer inclined to humour us on the issue.

This morning, in desperation, I took out my guitar, and sang her some songs. Sadly, I don’t know very many songs all the way through, and those that I do are not exactly baby friendly. Here is my version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” performed reggae-style, with improvised melodic commentary to make it child friendly in parentheses.

Like a bird, on a wire (birdy!)
Like a drunk, in a midnight choir (he’s drunk on life!)
I have tried, in my way, to be free (yay!)

Like a worm, on a hook (he’s hanging around!)
Like a knight, in an old fashioned book (horsey!)
I have saved all my ribbons for thee (that means you!)

If I, if I have been unkind (I haven’t! Don’t cry!)
I hope that you will just let it go by (Really, don’t cry!)
If I, if I have been untrue (he means lying. Really!)
I hope you know that it wasn’t to you (Lying's bad!)

Like a babe, (new) born (not disturbing at all!)
Like a beast, with his horn (like a rhino!)
I have torn everyone that reached out for me (by accident, and he’s sorry!)

But I swear, by this song (singing! Yay!)
And all the things I’ve done wrong (like choosing this song to sing!)
I will make it, all up to thee (ice cream!)

Saw a beggar, leaning on his wooden crutch (he’ll get better!)
He said to me, you must not ask for so much (Listen to the beggar man!)
I saw a lady, leaning, in her darkened door (she's not a hooker!)
She said to me, why not ask for more (don’t listen to the hooker!)

At that point, I figured that I’d better quit before launching into “House of the Rising Sun.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Soldier in the Pooh Army

The soldier in uniform, reflecting

I recently had the opportunity to interview a former volunteer in the notorious Pooh Army, and a veteran of the Battle of the Hundred Acre Wood during the bloody Honey Wars. This is her story, verbatim. Posts about local hikes and L.A.'s subterranean lizard people will follow, eventually)

You’ve heard of people like me. You might even think you know me. You might even think you understand me. You don’t. You don’t understand nothing, unless you’ve worn this uniform. To know me, you have be like me. You have to be a soldier in the Pooh Army.

Once, I was like you. I saw the Pooh shows, the Pooh posters, I didn’t think much of them. But one day – I dunno what went through my head. I was just a baby damnit – it was an impulse, maybe I was out of my mind of mashed peas – one day, I signed up.

And here’s something they don’t tell you about the Pooh Army: one minute, you’re a baby, rolling around in a puddle of your own drool but the next, they put you in that jumpsuit, and damnit: you’re expected to be ruthless, brutal, cold. A warrior.

My squad was a small one. We all came through the same training together… roll right. Roll left. Yell. It all seemed like a game. But one day, it all came to an end. The perfessor came. Yeah, he was an owl, sure, but we knew he had the smarts, and he was General Pooh's right-hand man. Respect.

He fluttered down in front of us, told us that we were ready. Told us about how we were not in this to be proud of ourselves, or even each other. He walked up to each of us, poking each of us in the chest with his bristly wings, looking at us with those raptor eyes, and saying we were to bring honour to the uniform we wore. Then he gave us the caps.

“You see those eyes one these caps! You see those ears?” he hollered. “You think those are just something that your Mommy will think is cute? No! Those are Pooh’s eyes! Those are Pooh’s ears! And when you go out there, he will SEE what you do! He will HEAR what you say! And you had better do him proud soldier!”

And that was it. We were soldiers in the Pooh Army, the fiercest fighting force in the world.

We were led by the Rabbit. He was scared. We laughed at him behind his back, but we should have been scared too. He’d been out before. He was a survivor, and was not happy to go out with a bunch of raw recruits like us. He told us what the owl said about the eyes was a load of crap.

“The eyes on the cap are there to confuse… him. That way, he won’t know where you’re looking. Not that it will matter.

“What do you mean?” asked Piglet – jeez, Piglet. Poor guy never knew any better. The Donkey shushed him –Ian, or Igor or something, I think his name was – a whiny guy, but hard working.

We rolled out. The target was some place called the Hundred Acre Wood. We were to retrieve as much of the honey – liquid gold, we called it – as we could. But it wouldn’t come for free. The enemy was somewhere in there, we knew: a semi-mythical man beast, idiotic and relentless. Legend had it that he traveled by boucing on his tail – all the better to keep all four of his slashing claws free.

We were on the road for what seemed like forever, poor Piglet chattering the whole way like we were on a picnic. The donkey never said much, except to mutter that he didn’t want his number to come up fighting over some honey pipeline in a godforsaken tree farm. Rabbit was in the lead, ears jumping around like t.v. aerials in a hurricane. Suddenly, he stopped, ears rigid.

“I think…”

Suddenly, we heard a blood freezing chortle, echoing in the trees, all around us. If I had any hair, it would have stood on end. And then, there was a flash – orange, black and “whoosh” – rabbit was gone.

Yeah… gone. Just like that – one minute, he’s in front of, scrawny little thing with bugged out eyes, next…. He was air.

What happened after that, I can’t say. I hit the ground – we all did. What else could we do? All we heard was this sound… over and over again, a sickening mechanical springing sound that no biological creature should ever make, and a thump of a tail hitting the ground like a fleshy pogo stick.

I swear to god, for the rest of my life, I’ll be hearing that sound in my nightmares.

After Rabbit disappeared, Piglet was next to go. Sproing, squeal, silence. Poor kid never did grow up to a full fledged hog like his Momma wanted. Then, that same orange and black flash in the corner of my eye – “Oh well,” said the donkey, resigned, like. Then a thump, and silence.

It was just me. I lay alone, trembling. That godawful sproinging sound drew closer, and closer. Finally, I felt a shadow over me. I felt something nudge my foot.

“Hey kid. Kid! Pay attention!”

I opened my eye.

“You know what most wonderful thing about Tiggers is? I said, DO YOU KNOW?”

I could only whimper.

“You listen, and listen good. It’s that I. AM. THE. ONLY. ONE.” he said. “You go back and tell General Pooh that. Make sure he gets the message.”

And with that, he disappeared. I looked around the clearing – my comrades were gone. Just… not there anymore. I won’t lie to you – I was damn glad I was wearing a diaper. Our supplies were all over the place, but I couldn’t bring myself to clean up – the bees were already swooping in on the broken jars. I fled – it took me days, let me tell you, living off whatever I could scrounge from the forest floor, but I had to get out of there, any way I could.

I quit the Pooh Army that day, but let me tell you, I will never forget the horror of what I saw in that clearing – Rabbit… Piglet… the donkey. My brothers. I can never forget them. But I want to… god, I would love to wipe my mind clean. Because let me tell you, to this day, whenever I close my eyes, and images of that terrible day in the Hundred Acre wood come to me, I can smell it like I was there.

Honey and sawdust. Honey and sawdust everywhere.

Naw, I'm just kidding.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Shaved baby

When I first moved to Montreal, many years ago, I moved into an apartment building that boasted a very attractive rent, which the proprietors kept low by running an extremely unattractive building. As such, it was filled with students, people on social assistance, and new immigrants (and roaches, but that has nothing to do with this story).

The apartment next to my greasy studio space was occupied by a family from Bangladesh – husband, wife (pregnant) and their toddler son. We didn’t speak often – partially because of the language barrier, partially because their son fell down a flight of stairs because of my stupidity (he was fine, though I’m convinced he’s been plotting to kill me ever since) and I don’t remember their names.

However, I do remember that one day, I noticed their son had gone from being the proud owner of a luxuriant mop of jet black hair, to completely bald. I didn’t have a chance to ask them why, but I mentioned it to Amynah. She explained that it was the custom, amongst South Asians, to shave their babies’ heads, in order to promote a thicker, fuller, second growth of hair.

I pointed out that I’d never had me head shaved and that, if anything, I (and most of the hairdressers that have suffered handcramps trying to deforest my scalp) wished my hair was somewhat less thick and luxurious. “Imagine how much thicker it would be if your mother had shaved it!” she replied. To that, I had no answer.

I bring this up by way of explaining that when I married Amynah several years later, I was fully-apprised that if and when we had kids, this was going to be an argument that we were going to have, and it was going to be an argument that I was going to lose. And today, the day arrived.

Through her community’s grapevine, Amynah found Rahima, a hairdresser that was willing to shave baby heads, and we made an appointment for today at noon (after first walking in unannounced two days ago, and gaining "what? are you monsters?" looks from all the other clientele when we said what we wanted). Sana was not in the best mood, but always behaves well around strangers. We stripped her down to her diaper, and Amynah put on a hairdressing robe. And Rahima set to work.

Sana was remarkably good humoured throughout – which is to say she was upset, but not the “Help! I’m being murdered” levels of upset she can reach when we’re giving her a bath, for instance.

It helped that one of the other hairdressers was there with her husband and three year old son, who was fascinated by the process and therefore willing to distract Sana by dancing and clapping for her amusement.

In any case, in twenty minutes it was all over, and we brought home our newly glabrous baby. I think she looks like Natalie Portman in “V for Vendetta.” What do you think?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nobody asked

Amynah and Sana are in Edmonton right now. I am not. This state of affairs, already three days old, will continue to this Friday. This is both the first time I’ve been alone in Los Angeles, and the first time I’ve spent any time away from Sana since she was born.

In their absence, I’ve made certain discoveries. This apartment apparently functions like an ecosystem, in which every niche must be filled for it to function. Amynah, Sana and I all fill specific niches.

Ordinairily, when Amynah is away, I need only fill her niche and mine. I didn’t think filling Sana’s would be so important: she’s only been around for .01 percent of my life, so how crucial could her role be?

Apparently, very crucial. Someone, it appears, has to be the one that doesn’t feed or dress themselves and sleeps at weird hours, and only when forced too. And that someone is now me.

Accordingly, I been spending too much time on the Internet, thinking about things that are not the least bit important or original. So, does anyone care what I think of the whole South Park thing? No? Here goes anyway. In response to a couple of extremists threatening the creators of the South Park cartoon for implying that they had drawn Mohammed in a bear suit (important note: it was actually Santa Claus in there), the Comedy Central Network censored the episode.

Predictably, in response to that, a few Facebook geniuses have decided to make some kind of point by creating an “everyone draw Mohammed day” and encouraging people to post images of the Islamic Prophet on their profile pages.

This is very, very, stupid.

There are three parties involved in this dispute: the South Park guys, the network, and the crazies. Posting offensive cartoons does not help the South Park guys. Nor does it send any cogent message to the network. It does, presumably, anger the crazies, but only in the course of offending millions of other, non-crazy Muslims.

On the surface, that might still be appealing, but it doesn’t really make any sense.

Take the Don Imus scandal from a few years back. A jack-ass radio announcer, he called a college women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy-headed hoes” on air. There was an outcry, and eventually his broadcaster fired him. His defenders yelled themselves hoarse over censorship, to no avail.

Now, at that point, would it have made any sense to defend Imus’ right to say what he wanted by repeating his words? Of course not – all that would have done would be to repeatedly insult a group of women that had almost nothing to do with his firing.

The same holds here: repeating South Park’s [non] offence, won’t have any effect on the ultimate censors – the network. And it won’t have any effect on the crazies either - the only thing, at this point, that would deflate them would be if Comedy Central reversed its decision. But posting a Mohammed cartoon because of this tempest in a teapot will serve as a middle finger upthrust in the face of every Muslim who believes both in their faith, and in not murdering people (which I am confident is the vast majority – especially on Facebook).

That, in the end, is what is at issue here: the crazies are not in the wrong because they’re Muslim. They’re not even in the wrong because they’re offended. They’re in the wrong because they threatened to kill people. The response effectively subjects anyone who peacefully belongs in the first two categories to a punishment that should rightfully be restricted to those in the third.

Of course, while such distinctions should matter to the “draw Mohammed” crowd, they don’t, because the middle finger approach requires far less thought. But reactionary contempt has noxious follow-on effects. To deliberately insult all Muslims for the offence of a very few is to agree on some level with the crazies that they speak for their coreligionists, when they most assuredly do not (I know at least one Muslim group actually accused them of being a front organization to make real Muslims look bad). Striking back at the crazies in such a broad fashion is to grant them an authority they do not deserve.

Beyond the pat-yourself-on-the-back feeling from having made “a statement,” (however meaningless it be) who other than the crazies themselves, does it serve to afford them such credibility?

(Incidentally, if you want to make fun of religious crazies, there are much more targeted and clever ways to do so).

Friday, April 09, 2010

Meryl Streep's star was the next one over.

Mann's Chinese Theatre

Hollywood is famous for many things, but reverence for the written word is not one of them. Its entertainments are, by definition literal, without being literary: most brutally, in a recent case, by removing the Wonder from Alice in Wonderland by making it “underland.” Because it’s underground you see, and Hollywood wouldn’t want you to be confused or, heaven forfend, be left wondering.

It’s strange then, that two of the most visited sites in Hollywood aren’t just word based, they’re literally just words – the Hollywood sign, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As someone who works with words for a living, I don’t want to discourage this, but I couldn’t help but be curious about the appeal. The sign is not particularly distinguished – an unadorned font, plain white, running across the crest of some unspectacular mountains, it looks like what it originally was: a real-estate billboard.

As to the Walk, what precisely is the difference between seeing the words “Harrison Ford” on gum-encrusted brass plaque on the sidewalk upon which the multimillionaire actor may never have trod, and seeing it on the credits of one of his movies which he actually had something to do with or, say, dropped arbitrarily in a curmudgeonly blog post?

My experience of the Walk didn’t illuminate matters for me. There were a lot of names – not all of which I recognized, and none of which got my blood pumping. Some that I observed weren’t even real people: like Big Bird, The Simpsons, or John Tesh.

Yet, the sidewalks were crowded with people taking photos of people’s names, squealing with excitement when they happened upon a particularly famous one. I wondered if there was a market in simply charging people five bucks for their people their favorite celebrity’s name printed on a Post-It note – it would be somewhat more tangible, after all.

As I cynically pondered this, the experience, suddenly, though perhaps inevitably, became what the cool kids might call meta-textual, when I stumbled across this star:

Anne Shirley is, as my Canadian readers will know, the heroine of the Lucy Maude Mongomery “Anne of Green Gables” novels. The first book was made into a film in 1934 and a rising young actress, born Dawn Paris.* was cast in the part. Apparently unafraid of being typecast, she adopted Montgomery’s creation’s name as her own, and spent the rest of her career as Anne Shirley. And here I was, taking a photo of the not-name of a starlet who'd been in a movie that had taken its story from a book – whose main character would have been preferred have been called Cordelia.

We’re through the rabbit hole people. Into UnderWonderland.

* Before adopting Anne Shirley as a stage name, Dawn Paris performed under thoroughly awesome stage name of “Dawn O’Day."

Monday, April 05, 2010

The big cheese

I was going to do a big post on visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but my beloved daughter has been possessed by a shrieking goblin that will only be exorcised by being held and cuddled, non-stop.

Instead, I will present you with, courtesy of Brian Busby at
"The Dusty Bookcase," a poem from Canada's history, singing the glories of a 7,000 pound cheese made for a 19th century World's Fair that I would look up if I didn't have my apoplectic offspring attempting to revenge herself upon me for not predicting and catering to her infantile whim to not sleep in any of the sleep-dedicated infrastructure we have cluttering up the apartment.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Vegas. Baby.

I’m not superstitious, but I should have known our Vegas trip was not going to end in riches when our hotel booked us into rooms on the thirteenth floor.

While we were looking forward to our first road trip with Yann and Felicie since Provence there were omens that luck was not with us: the enjoyment of our night gawking at the Strip was considerably reduced by Earth Hour, during which most of the major casinos turned off their ridiculously garish light displays in the spirit of environmentally sustainability. Who the hell goes to Vegas to be reminded about the needless excesses of consumer society?

The untimely restraint meant that the hour Amynah spent waiting for the famous Bellagio fountain show was wasted* – we gave up our primo viewing spots five minutes before it started, meaning we only caught a glimpse of it over a bunch of frat boys heads. (*Not entirely wasted - she found people's reactions to the gang of pamphleteers with their "Jesus Saves You... FROM HELL!" t-shirts to be pretty entertaining).

Strip with the lights on. Upon reflection, a less clichéed photo would have been the Strip with the lights off. Maybe next year.

As long as Sana was with us we were a little reluctant to enter the casinos either. Regretfully, the abundant smoking, drinking, and scantily-clad go-go dancers (not to mention the surfeit of Tea-Party types in town for a protest) didn’t seem conducive to creating and atmosphere for responsible parenting.

Of course, bare flesh was hard to avoid: every corner on the strip was populated by half a dozen guys handing out calling-cards for “professional companions.” At one point, Felicie complained that no one was trying to give her one, so I – chivralrous gentleman that I am – took one for her.

This was a big mistake: as soon as the rest saw that they had a willing taker, I was swarmed by half a dozen card snapping prostitute-proselytizers, shoving pictures of naked ladies in my face, into my hands, even directly into my pockets. For those keeping score at home: Susan, Veronica [the lone brunette], Kimberly, Mariah, Tina, and Victoria and Tiffany, who appear to be package-deal twins. To my disappointment, there wasn't a Honus Wagner in the bunch. It occurred to me that Vegas would be a very strange city in which to go through puberty.

Felicie awaiting her Philly Cheese steak. That tower on the table behind her? Beer.

That’s not to say we avoided sin entirely. On our first night, we inadvertently enjoyed quite possibly the most American – or least French, anyway – dinner of our lives. It was at a NASCAR-themed restaurant, with filled with March-maddened college basketball fans yelling at the half-dozen large screen TVs. Felicie and I had Philly cheese steak sandwiches, Yann had a pound-of-beef burger, and Amynah – eating light – had a Southern-style chicken sandwich with what appeared to be a hectare of fries. Though we were tempted, we refrained from ordering the two-foot long burrito that was the restaurant’s “challenge dish” – finish it, and you eat for free. “Bathroom breaks are monitored - vomiting voids the competition” said the announcer, drily.

Yann and his pound-of-beef burger

When Yann and I finally managed to hit the tables, we were a little tired and overwhelmed. Our practice games of Blackjack had only left us certain that we wanted to be the house. Nonetheless, (once Amynah had retired with Sana) we found a table with a sympathetic looking dealer, close to a lucky-looking go-go dancer, and bought some chips. Felicie went upstairs to change, but promised to return.

Somehow, despite our attempts to look worldly and Euro-sophisticated, the dealer, and our fellow players, spotted us for the hopeless rubes we were immediately. Every second hand, when one or the other of us would tap for another card, the dealer would look us, puzzled:

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” we’d reply, full of machismo. And then we’d lose.

At one point, Yann was up nearly one hundred bucks, while I was down to fifteen – the minimum stake for the table. Then he drew a pair and –with considerable guidance from an exceptionally inebriated man with horn-rimmed glasses – split it. I had no idea what was happening, and I’m pretty sure Yann didn’t either, but between Friendly McDrunkerson and the helpful dealer, Yann basically had his hand played for him. He lost. Then he lost a few more times, and pretty soon he was out.

Me, I went up as much as $45 dollars, but mostly floated between $15 and $30 – winning a little, immediately losing it, then winning it back. I never had as much as Yann did at the dizzying heights of his success, but I played longer. In the end though, I lost just as much, burning through my stake.

And while I tried to play it cool, Yann and I were both itching to get back on the tables: Yann’s goal was to win enough to pay off a parking ticket he’d incurred the day before, while I wanted to show that I could walk away even with “only” a fifteen dollar win (which, incidentally, would have required winning back my initial stake as well). We were both convinced – all evidence to the contrary – that we were on the verge of a breakthrough. We headed out of the casino, towards a bank machine. On the way there, we ran in to Felicie, on her way to join us.

“You’re done already?” she asked, incredulously.

“Errr…” we said, suddenly realizing we’d blown through our stated limit in less time than it had taken for her to change her pants. Perhaps, we decided, it would be better to simply have a drink, watch the go-go dancers without the distractions of babies or cards, and then turn in for the night.

However, if there’s a next time, I’m requesting a room on a different floor.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mammoth Murder

Had you asked me what the coolest thing in California was when I was in grade five number redacted years ago, I would have not hesitated: tar pits. Pits of tar, laden like Chunky Soup with the remains of such wondrous creatures as sabre-tooth tigers and wooly mammoths.

It took a visit from our French friends, Yann and Félicie, to finally induce us to make the trip out to the pits. It was pretty awesome: there were a lot of animals that fell into those pits. The fact that the first few dozen to go in didn’t serve as an object lesson to the dozens more that followed probably goes a long way to explain why they didn’t survive to the present day. The Ice Age was a stupider age.

Sabre toothed freakin' tiger!

As visitors enter the museum grounds, they see the largest pit, fenced of for safety. Within the fencing is an educative, if horrifying tableau:

How can you look at this and not be shocked? Look at the mother mammoth, crying uselessly for help, as it sinks, panicked, into the relentless, sucking void? Look at her baby – reaching it’s tiny trunk out for his mother, watching the very source of his existence sink, with tortuous slowness, into oblivion, while his father, stands by, helpless and knowing he can do nothing to help. It rends the heart.

But it got worse. Unnoticed, on the other side of the lake, we spot another mammoth, concealed behind a bluff, watching the terminal paroxysms of the female.

Creepy. What is he doing there? Why is he watching, offering neither assistance nor comfort? Why is he hiding? Did he have a hand in events? Could it be that our perpetually dying mammoth did not fall, but was in fact pushed?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Still alive

Proof I leave the house occasionally

Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve been around here, eh?

A blog like this will go dry for one of three reasons: there’s nothing going on, and therefore nothing to write about, or there’s too much going on, and therefore I’ve no time to write about it, or I’m suffering some sort of blogging/writing ennui and therefore don’t want to write at all.

Or option number four: All of the above.

Most of our life over the last few months has been exactly what you would expect life with a new baby to be like: feeding, crying, sleeping, and dealing with the baby’s feeding, crying and sleeping. And while I find absolutely everything Sana does to be enthralling, I recognize that not everyone else is tuning into this frequency of the Internet to read about me babbling on about how absolutely brilliant, beautiful and awe-inspiring my daughter is.

Even if I wanted to write about that (which I do, believe me) I didn’t have the time because my Guardian Angel Mom has been here for the last month, keeping us alive helping us out and spoiling spending time with her newest grandchild. During that month my sister and her family of four, as well as friends from both Canada and France have arrived for visits. It’s been a madhouse, and Sana probably believes she’s being raised in a Bed and Breakfast.

In addition to that, Sana has started at daycare (breaking my fragile heart) and I have started a new job.

So, there’s plenty of material to write about, and I hope to do so soonish, but I am now splitting my writing efforts between here, my job, and my semi-pseudonymous blogging gig at Goodkin, a family lifestyle site at which I am now semi-professionally blogging. This means some stuff that might have appeared here will appear there: check ‘em out.

So this isn't a post so much as it is a promise statement of intent to eventually post here again, soon. My apologies to both my readers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Perhaps we can reach them by carrier pigeon?

Given that it's very name is a byword for enormous and slow moving, you'd think it wouldn't be very difficult for me to get a decent picture of the blimp that skulks around my neighbourhood in the evenings.

For those of you asking why, precisely, my corner of LA is a haven for antiquated aviation devices, I must disappoint - I have no idea. I like to believe that it's manned by a gang of Prussian centenarians who never got word of the Armistice in 1918.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who says science can't be ridiculous?

Despite Monday's debacle, Sana and I returned to the baby lab today. This is the video they played.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Next time, we're putting her in a giant maze with cheese.

With Amynah being a scientist, and me having a professionally symbiotic relationship with science, we decided early on that we would enroll Sana in pretty much any baby-development study on offer at UCLA. We didn’t have long to wait – we received a card seeking the use of our baby in the mail from “The Baby Lab” when Sana was five weeks old. A week after we sent it in, we got a call asking us to bring her in.

So yesterday, I tramped up to the UCLA campus, pushing Sana in The Mangler through the drifting crowds of cooing undergraduates. We got into the lab, where the professor in charge was in the midst of a meeting with his undergraduates. I was handed a great sheaf of papers to read and sign (“I understand that there are no risks associated with these experiments beyond those associated with everyday life” - I was going to mention that I had, in the course of my everyday life earlier that morning, been training Sana as my apprentice in my new career as a bullfighting skydiver, but thought it prudent to just sign the form). Despite the new environment and her approaching lunchtime, Sana was pretty quiet. I quickly changed her diaper, and we went in for the experiment.

The idea, I was told, was to test infant’s understanding of the continuity of form – whether they understood that if a box passes over a rod, that the rod will still be intact afterward. To do this, they track baby’s pupils – the longer the baby stares at an object, the more likely they are surprised by what they see.

We were say in front of a tv screen outfitted with a special camera designed to track Sana’s eye movements. To get set it up, they played a video of singing muppets, then a series of beeping shapes and video snippets. After that, the test would begin.

This was the muppet video:

Here’s how it went.

“Ba na ma na”

Happy baby

“Shapes and beeps” – crying. Perhaps she was startled by the sudden change? The technicians were understanding, and started over.

“Ba na ma na”

Happy baby

“Shapes and beeps” – crying.

I informed Sana that she was being unreasonable, and setting back the forward march of human knowledge. She seemed chastened. We resumed our place by the screen, determined to do better.

“Ba na ma na” started again, and Sana watched, calmly, perhaps even bobbing her head along a little.

The shapes and beeps started. Sana watched as they moved, corner to corner, beeping and bopping. Her brow wrinkled. What was this – some sort of avant garde cinema? Where was the music, the characters, the great themes? This was just abstract posturing. She started to squirm, then her face reddened. She started to holler.

“That’s uh, two thumbs down,” I said, as I bundled her out of the lab.

She won’t make it as a scientist perhaps, but she might have a future as a movie critic.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Stay at home parenting: Day 0.5

5:55 AM – Sana hollers me awake. Today’s the day when Amynah goes back to work, albeit for only half the day. Amynah’s convinced Sana knows it, and thus has been particularly needy throughout the night: “She woke up at 2:30, and didn’t really go back to sleep,” said Amynah, wearily. I try to look sympathetic, while inwardly congratulating myself for my foresight in not developing breasts. Reading my mind, Amynah vindictively demands that I change Sana’s diaper.

7:00 After a quick nap, I wander downstairs to prepare breakfast, while Amynah puts Sana down to sleep again. Amynah comes down, thanks me profusely for my labours. The enthusiasm of her gratitude makes me think that her sleep deprivation has made the act of toasting a bagel seem to her a work of culinary genius.

7:45 I hop in the shower. After five minutes, Amynah pops her head in the door: “Bye!” I then here her run downstairs. The front door slams. I wait for it to open again and for her to yell “Just kidding!”

7:51: Still waiting.

7:52: It appears that she meant it when she said, almost every day since December 10, that she was going back to work. It’s just the baby and I, and I have no breasts with which to defend myself.

8:00: I peek my head into the room where the baby is sleeping, a transistor radio playing static to keep her calm. As I look at her face, her eyes open a crack. I yelp and run away.

8:30: Attempting to write. Have run upstairs to check on her three times so far. She’s fine, but I think I pulled a muscle in my leg.

9:09: Writing. Email arrives from Amynah “Hey sweetie, I miss you and Sana very much.” Me and who?

9:14: Baby crying! I plug her noise hole with a soother, and bring her downstairs. Now she’s sucking away, and looking at me like I’m an idiot. Clearly, something else needs to be done.

9:20: Baby crying, slowly, clearly and emphatically, so that Idiot Parent understands. I investigate the diaper, to find much treasure therein. By my calculation, she has gone through roughly 7,000 Pampers since making her appearance in this world. Really, it shouldn’t still be this upsetting for her.

9:35: Have spent ten minutes trying, and failing to capture her smiling as she lies in her favourite place in the world – the Poop Deck. I don’t want to upset her with the flash, and my stupid camera’s too slow with the flash off.

Actually, that came out ok

9:36: On to the play mat, where she stares at the various hanging rattles, mirrors and noisemakers without having the faintest clue what to do with them. I try to write with one hand while shaking a bead-filled plastic doughnut for her amusement.

9:38: She is not amused. The crying starts again. Time to feed.

9:40: I’m set up on the couch. Magazine – check. Cloth to wipe spilt milk – check. Agitated baby – check. Milk – Damnit! Out of reach in the kitchen.

9:41: Milk retrieved, she’s sucking on the bottle as if she hadn’t been fed in three days, instead of three hours. I realize that with one arm holding her, and one holding the bottle, I can basically only enjoy the magazine by pulling it close on the table with my feet and reading the page it happened to be open to over, and over, and over again. It’s an ad for a European investment bank.

10:25 – Bottle’s empty! Not sure if she’s done, but it should hold her until Amynah comes home at lunch. I put her in the swing, and immediately get on the phone to open an account with Banco Santander.

10:26 – It is deeply unnerving to have a baby stare at you when you’re trying to work.

10:27 – Still staring.

10:28 – I turn the swing around so she’s looking out the balcony window.

10:29 – She spots me reflected in the glass. She stares.

10:30 – I might be going slightly mad.

10:45 – I peek over the kitchen counter, behind which I am hiding with my laptop. Sana’s eyes are closed, so it’s safe to return to my desk.

11:30 - She’s starting to fuss again. It could be a rebellion against the MIDI versions of classical music beeping through her swing’s sound system or it could be a signal for a diaper change.

11:31 – Diaper change.

11:38 – she’s calm, if somewhat too active, while I struggle to introduce her to clean underpants, but as soon as I get her pajamas back on, she starts to fuss. Then cry. Then shriek like she’s being tortured. Of course, this is when the phone rings.

11:39 - It’s Amynah, on her way home. Just in time! I put Sana in her stroller and make a mad dash for the bus stop. As soon as we’re rolling, the crying stops – she’s awake, eyes wide open, with an expression on her face that says “I’m calm now, but you better know you’re on thin ice, buddy.” I pass three other Dads out pushing their kids around the neighbourhood. Doesn’t anyone in this city have a job?

11:50 – Amynah! Sana’s visibly relieved. Day one as a stay-at-home Dad, and we both survived. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

11:52 – Amynah informs me she’s working a full day tomorrow. Sana immediately starts to cry.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Baby boxing: Nano-weight division

In this corner, hailing from Canada and Los Angeles, wearing the brown onesie, weighing in at 8 pounds or thereabouts, Sana "Mommy's Little Monster". In the other corner, hailing from France and San Diego, wearing the white pajamas, Leon "Teddy Bear's Pique-nique."

Round one:

"Though smaller than her opponent, Sana is clearly at ease on home turf, refusing to even look in her opponent's direction. Additionally, at nearly twice Leon's age, Sana is counting on her experience and better gross motor control to dominate this match. Leon, understandably keeps his distance in the early going, but, eventually squirms to within flailing distance. Big mistake! Sana starts the hostilities with a straight jab to the face. It's on!"

"Leon isn't hurt - he shakes it off, with his Mom cheering from the ringside. He attempts to close the distance, and retaliates with a sucker punch to the back of Sana's head."

"Sana's unfazed, and doesn't even notice the blow. But... Oh! She changes tactics, and surprises Leon again with a shot to the gut."

"Hoping to use his superior size to his advantage, Leon's presses the attack, and attempts to disorient Sana with a ringing jab on the ear,"

"If Sana's shaken, she doesn't show it. Her retaliation is quick, and brutal - she ends the contest with a sharp uppercut to the jaw. It's over!"

All photos from our friend Candice. Her son and Sana actually got on very well, as far as we could tell.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A shady tale.

Yes, we're on a West Coast beach. No, it isn't California. I will compose a limerick in honour of the person who guesses where we are

See those sunglasses I’m wearing? They're prescription I’ve had those things for years – bought them in Montreal, at the urging of a fabulous salesman who assured they made me look “edgy.” I’m fairly certain he was simply trying to unload his stock from the 1970s and pegged me – accurately – as the kind of guy who would be flattered to be seen as possessing any quality that could remotely be described as edge-like.

While I do quite like them – you don’t often see glasses like this outside of seventies cop shows – they’ve always been a little loose on my face. Over the years, the arms have become particularly floppy, meaning that they are constantly falling off my shirt or head when I need to bend over.

Today, Amynah, my brother-in-law and I were running some errands around town. As we were pulling out of the parking garage and into the sunlight, I went to grab the glasses that had been, I thought, hanging from my shirt. They weren’t there.

I pulled out into traffic, reaching around my immediate area the driver’s seat, my various jacket pockets, on the floor. Nothing. I pulled over, and searched Sana’s car seat, the trunk, the grocery bags. No luck (well, in finding them - it probably was lucky I didn't have an accident doing this while driving without being able to see.

Finally, Amynah convinced me to return to the store where we’d just been. WE pulled back into the parking garage, and slowly cruised by the spot where we’d parked, now occupied by a SUV. Behind it’s rear wheel, Amynah spotted a twisted metal object, roughly where I’d been standing when folding Sana’s stroller.

“I think that’s them!” she said, excitedly. My stomach dropped – it looked like this was going to be worse than not finding them all. I stopped the car and dashed out, grabbing the glasses and handed them to Amynah, not even looking at them.

“Oh…” she said, solemnly. “I don’t know if they’re going to make it.”

I pulled the car into an empty spot. Sure, my glasses had been run over by two tons of Lexus, but I knew we’d been through too much, in too many places, for this to be the end.

“No! No! I can fix them,” I said. Gently, lovingly, I bent the arms back into position, aligned the frame, and pushed the lens – both, miraculously undamaged - back into place. I put them on: they fit better than they had in years.

I have another pair of regular glasses that have feeling a little loose lately. I think I’ll go leave them in the driveway for a while, see if that helps.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A rose by any other name would probably be something dirty

The very first article I ever sold was a description of a trans-Canada foot race that captivated the country in 1921.* I’d originally written it for my local paper, to be published roughly to coincide with the anniversary of the race’s finish.

They were interested, but in the end passed, as they’d already filled that spot in that week’s paper. I, having having already written the piece, and not wanting all those hours in the Nova Scotia Archives to have gone to waste, decided to see if there were any magazines that might take it. As it happens, I found a magazine that specialized in Canadian history. I mailed it to them, and promptly forgot about it.

At this point, I knew I was moving to Montreal to be with Amynah, but was living in a humid basement apartment with my friends Jon and Sue. One day, a letter arrived, bearing the letterhead of the magazine to which I’d sent my article. Jon had picked up the mail that day, and he passed me the thin envelope with a sympathetic expression on his face – if I’d got the commission, surely the envelope would have a contract in it?

Reluctantly, I took it from him, and opened it. I scanned the first few lines – then scanned them again. Then I let out a girlish shriek of delight: not only did they want the article, but they were going to pay me roughly three times what the newspaper would have.** I immediately called Amynah who – for reasons I cannot recall – was entertaining my friend Tim, passing through Montreal at the time. And thus I got to share with some of my best friends in the world, at the very moment when I set upon my career: I was going to be a writer. For real.

The magazine that took my commission changed my life: not only did it confirm to me that I had the chops to be a professional, but it also lit a passion in me for Canadian history. And it earned my loyalty: I went on to write several stories on odd corners of Canada’s past – Nazi librarians, forgotten Portuguese settlements on Cape Breton, draft dodgers hiding in seminaries, cannibals in Quebec , abstract artists in Saskatchewan… to name a few.***

And yet, without fail, whenever I told anyone the name of the magazine, they would titter, giggle, guffaw, and smirk. Because yes, the second-oldest magazine in Canada, and the only general interest publication solely devoted to our nation’s history is named for our national animal. The Beaver.

It is with great sorrow that I find that The Beaver is changing its name to… ergh… “Canada’s History.” A little on the nose, no? It's a little like calling "The Wizard of Oz" "Girl gets bonked on the head and has allegorical dream about the gold standard." In any case, it doesn't do justice to a magazine that's been going from strength to strength for the past decade or so.

More than being left utterly cold by the new name, I'm saddened to learn that our national rodent – the foundation of the fur trade that played such and important role in creating the country – was cast aside because, thanks to the wonders of this connected age, a few thousand dirty minded people kept washing up in the wrong place. I mean, in my mind, part of the whole point of a magazine about Canada’s history is to be above that sort of thing, and hold true to, well, Canada’s history. Most especially a magazine originally founded by the Hudson’s Bay Company which made it’s fortune selling the pelts of that proud and noble animal.

Because the magazine has such an important role in my own life, I will admit I feel the name change is a bit of a personal betrayal, and am thus probably more than a little biased. Lord knows, I was heartily sick of explaining that I was not, in fact, a pornographer when I wrote for them – I can only imagine what the full-time employees put up with.

But surely, isn’t there some chance that some sweaty-palmed 14 year old looking for nude pictures of Samantha Steele instead find an article on Canada’s most famous Mountie and realize, like I did, that there’s more to Canadian history than drunken Scots politicians and (probably also drunk) voyageurs ? Couldn’t the world use a few more educated perverts?

* The race was won by the only woman participating and – technically – her husband.
** I resold the piece a few years later to the same newspaper, so – yay me!
*** And I will name a few more, at great length, if anyone asks.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Fire proof

I like to think that, in the three years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve developed certain standards, and a particular tone that you, my readers have hopefully come to enjoy. Namely, aside from one or two forays into Canadian politics, the topics here have usually consisted of a) odd historical tidbits or b) me doing something stupid and hurting myself.

The latter are, understandably, much funnier than the former. What I don’t do, for the most part, is make fun of other people, except in the mildest and most affectionate of ways.

All of this is by way of a prelude to a post that is somewhat out of character for me, so I apologize in advance.

As most of you know, Amynah is an Ismaili Muslim. We agreed, long before she was a glimmer in her Daddy’s eye, that Sana would be as well (“informed indifferentism” not being a viable alternative). And so, once the bulk of Amynah’s immediate family had arrived in Los Angeles, we had her “Baiyat” – basically a baptism – in the library of the local Ismaili prayer hall.

I won’t go into the details of the ceremony, first because it was pretty much exactly like a Catholic baptism, and second because the relevant prayers were all in Gujurati so I didn’t fully understand what was happening. It was an emotionally moving moment though, and I was proud to be there.

After the ceremony, we had Amynah’s relatives and the few lab-mates that were in town over to help us dispose of the barrels of curry Amynah’s Mom had rustled up for the occasion.

Among the attendees was a girl I will call Azin. She was, technically, a former volunteer in Amynah’s lab. She was originally from Iran, where she apparently trained as a medical professional of some sort.

She had joined Amynah’s lab a few months before Amynah as a paid assistant, hired by Amynah’s generous boss, who hoped to help her in her planned application for grad school.

Sadly, it didn’t really work out: as Amynah explained it to me, Azin’s English comprehension made it impossible to keep up with her boss’s scattershot management style, and he grasp of the business of the lab meant she needed a lot of guidance: ”A lot” emphasized Amynah.

Amynah’s boss wasn’t willing to just kick the girl to the curb, and so he agreed to keep her on as a volunteer. Except that she still didn’t have anything to do, and no one in the lab wanted to be saddled with hammering through the language barrier to help her out. In the end, her presence was a hindrance to the business of the lab, and so, regretfully, her boss had to tell her she was no longer welcome. She was fired, as a volunteer.

Except, she came back. And she still comes back. Every week, wandering amongst the beakers and microscopes of the lab like a perfectly coiffed automaton, just waiting for someone to take pity on her and tell her to do something. No one ever does.

When Azin showed up at the party, I was delighted: I desperately wanted to meet the only person I’d ever heard of who’d been fired from volunteering – and somehow been impervious too it.

She was the strangest person I’d ever seen.

First, she was beautiful – there’s no arguing that. But speaking to her was deeply unsettling – her eyes, always somewhat glazed, were pointed just slightly to the side of your face, as if her home planet was instructing via a holograph over one’s shoulder. Her posture was ramrod straight, and she did not walk so much as glide. She was like a porcelain doll, and about as lively.

The most basic interactions escaped her. At one point, Amynah’s Mom approached her, and said “Please, have some food,” pointing at the groaning table and giving her a plate.

“Yes, thank you, I am having a lovely time,” replied Azin, uncomprehendingly, plate dangling uselessly from her hand.

Amynah’s Mom was flummoxed: “No… food! Eat!” she said, pushing her unresisting guest to the table. I didn’t watch the rest of the interaction, but I wouldn’t have been the least surprised if my mother-in-law had to then explain to our guest what Earthling food was for.

Later, seeing her conversationally stranded, I went over to speak to her, asking where in Iran she was from. Tehran, it turned out. Making polite small talk, I said I’d like to visit her country someday.

Her eyes snapped into focus: “Where?”

“Umm…” I said, flailing for some Iranian geography beyond Tehran, “Well… I hear the mountains are nice.” (I figured if Iran has a nuclear facility in a mountain, they probably have a few more peaks, and hey… mountains are nice everywhere).

“Yes! We have mountains. They are in the north and the west. We also have deserts. These are in the center. We also have beaches, both north and in the south, but the ones in the southwest are nicest,” she said, gazing into the middle distance, as if reciting from a cue card.

“Oh… that’s nice. So… ummm…” I was completely unnerved. Was she going to tell me Iran’s GDP next? But she had already moved on.

“Tell me. Why is there a pretzel on your tree? What does this mean?” she asked suddenly, pointing to an Alsatian novelty ornament on the tree.

Relieved, I replied “Oh, that’s from where Amynah and I used to live in France. It’s a common food there, so that was kind of a souvenir.”

Azin locked eyes with me, unblinkingly: “Yes, but what does it mean?”

“It’s… I don’t know… from Alsace… food… pretzel… friendship?” I stammered.

“Friendship?” she inquired, relentlessly.

“Yeah… you know, you have the two arms… linking together…..” I offered, making it up as I went along. “Like a handshake!” I finished lamely.

She nodded, as if I’d confirmed something for her, and then wandered off to peer at a section of our kitchen wall.

It turns out that I had been the last person at the party to try to speak to her, and everyone else had had similarly unsettling experiences. Soon after our interaction, Azin decided that she had observed enough of our planet’s customs and made to leave. One by one, ramrod straight, she glided over to Amynah, then Amynah’s Mom and Dad, then her Uncle, graciously and formally informing them that she had had a lovely time, thank you for inviting her, and congratulations on the beautiful new addition to your family.

However rote these formalities, so strange and otherworldly was her manner, a hush fell over the room, and every eye on her as if she was an albino tiger or equally exotic and unpredictable creature. Anyone else would have been self-conscious in the silence – but she was completely unruffled by the scrutiny. When she walked out the door, it was as if a spell had been broken. There was a titter of nervous laughter as the tension broke.

Bewildered, Amynah’s Uncle glared at me: “What the hell was wrong with her?”

I replied, looking at the door through which Azin had departed, yet somehow failed to close properly: “That, Habib, is a living legend. That was the girl who could not be fired.”