Monthly Archives: January 2013

The DapperDame Hosts (Again)

Since I started with couchsurfing I have been off-and-on active.  Now that I have my own place I’ve been able to participate more (although I get much fewer requests in Edmonton than in Toronto).  So far I have hosted people from:

Belgium
Canada
Germany
Japan
South Africa
Taiwan
United States

Using 196 as the number of countries in the world then I have hosted people from 3.6% of the world’s countries.  I love collecting!

This weekend I had the good fortune of hosting “N” from Japan.  She accompanied me to the Human Library, we went climbing (twice!), to the Duchess (d’uh), to China town for some bubble tea and general perusing and a quick trip to the West Edmonton Mall**.  She cooked me a lovely meal of noodles and dumplings, left me the cutest card and introduced me to a new band that I’m totally digging right now.  Watch Shugo Tokumaru’s fun video:

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Pay close attention to the first ingredient.

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*A debated figure – there are 193 countries in the UN, plus Vatican City, Kosovo (not yet members) and Taiwan

**I have been instructed multiple times by ShanWow that I am not to refer to the West Edmonton Mall by its full name in the company of Edmontonians.  It is to be “the mall” or “west ed”.

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Human Library

On a whim while browsing the internets Thursday night I signed reserved a human at the library.  It was an event put on by CBC (we all know how much I love CBC) and the Edmonton Public Library – they found a variety of people with interesting life experiences and allowed people to reserve a 45 minute time slot with a “book”.  By the time I discovered this event there was only one space available so that left no time to ponder the potential for awkwardness and I decided to just go for it.  Besides, last week Mr. E at work commented on my bravery for usually being pretty willing to put myself into awkward situations.  What can I say, it’s a gift.

So, Saturday afternoon Nastuki (a couchsurfer staying with me with weekend) and I spent 3/4 of a hour chatting with Mark Connolly, news anchor for CBC Edmonton news and frequent correspondent for cycling and bobsleigh at the Olympics.  (Check out the other participants here).  We opted out of having it filmed.  He was a nice and engaging guy and we chatted about travel – the time he reserved equipment while covering the Olympics in Nagano only to return to find some confused girls who had just given it to another white guy who they thought was him.  We talked about heroes – I took Gretzky off the table but he was going to choose Clara Hughes anyway.  It was great to have someone, especially a man, single out a female athlete as a hero before any others.  We discussed switching jobs with anyone at the CBC for a day – he decided he would be take Peter Mansbridge’s place and host the National for the evening; I opted for Sook-Yin Lee’s job on Definitely Not the Opera.

He also graciously allowed a photo-op (blog time!) and introduced us to the producers from CBC that were milling about.  It was a great event with a great atmosphere.  I just wish they would offer it every week!

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Away by Jane Urquhart (3/5)

As Canada Reads edges closer I’ve been taking most of my lunches on a couch in the cafeteria with a diet coke and a book.  Normally I’m a social-luncher but this is getting serious.  It has paid off – I’m now more than half way.  I’m on the Wednesday night of Canada Reads.

Away by Jane Urquhart

In one of my earlier posts I admitted that this was the book of the five that I was least looking forward to.  Apparently the book cover did not do its job because I definitely enjoyed it.  Except I’m having a very difficult time reviewing it.  The main reason that I enjoyed Away was for the prose.  Usually flowery language won’t do it for me.  Usually.  The way Urquhart writes is lovely and carries the book.  Possibly the reason that the review is giving me trouble is that the themes were not as immediately obvious to me as the previous two books – I ain’t no literary critiquer.  

While the story is enough to entertain it is the writing that kept me going.  It is often beautiful or interesting without trying too hard.  With her poetic style Urquhart weaves a trail through the lineage of an Irish (then Irish-Canadian) family on the backs of the copper-haired matriarchs.  The title “away” is first applied to Mary – a young woman living on Rathlin Island, Ireland – when she finds the body of a sailor washed on the shore after a storm and is never quite the same.  The tie with the water changes who she is and seeps into the next generations of women.  The meaning of away is more implied than described – the community thinks her mind has been taken by spirits from the deep.  Despite her “away” status Mary is introduced to a man from the mainland and agrees to marry him.  They have a son, Liam, and eventually leave Ireland for Canada during the potato famine of the late 1840s on the dime of their eccentric landlords.  It isn’t long after the birth of their second child, a red-headed girl named Eileen, that Mary is called by the water again and disappears.  Although Eileen never knew Mary she marries the memory of being “away” in herself.

It is a romance for everything that never comes to be.  “Away” is a crush that was never requited.  She does it all with landscapes and snippets of Irish folklore.  The theme of memory persists in this book across all three so far. Memory here is more generational than in February where it was more personal, individual.

This book was a surprise – I would gladly read more of Jane Urquhart’s works.

Up next:  The Age of Hope by David Bergen

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Tragically Obsessed

I’m finally part of the 99% of Canadians who have seen The Tragically Hip live in concert.  One of the friends I was to attend with couldn’t make the show last minute and we couldn’t get anyone to take the ticket.  That sounds sad but the truth is many people had simply already seen them in concert…3 or 4…or more times.  I’ve been inducted to the Hip’s collection.  Despite all this they still managed to pretty much sell out Rexall Place in Edmonton last night (where the Oilers play).  And there is a reason:  Gord Downie.  Of course it wouldn’t be the Hip without the band but he knows how to entertain and you get the feeling that he isn’t even doing it for your benefit – he just can’t stand still.  The best way I can describe it is a Charlie Chaplin + Canadian krumping.  The music and his actions always told two separate stories.

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Yep, it’s Gord!

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Canada’s band in Canada’s temple

The energy of a Hip show is huge.  This was a bit of a surprise to me because their albums are more like mellow poetry for me.  I hadn’t really thought of them as a *rock* band but live they get down right grungy and raw and it is lovely.  And loud.  Speaking of lovely, so was the reverence for the classics, the moment when everyone stood with lighters* and swayed along to Wheat Kings.  

To add yet another Canadian moment they played the song Hello Attawapiskat from their new album.  Just a few months ago and again in my Two Solitudes post I referenced Joseph Boyden’s talk at the University of Alberta.  What I had forgotten until last night was that Mr. Boyden had invited the Hip up to Northern Ontario with him and they played a show there for hope a solidarity – I believe that is where the song originated.  PLUS, I learned that one of my favourites, Courage, is actually named Courage (For Hugh MacLennan) – a shout out to the author of the most recent Canada Reads book and the one I mentioned above Two Solitudes.  Full circle, people.

Any Canadian culture moments to share?

*While it was a more intimate spectacle with firelight than cellphone glow I have to ask – what is the smoking rate in Edmonton???

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Quintessentially Canadian (Personalities)

To recap the inaugural post of this series I have been creating a list of essential music, TV, books, foods and experiences that a non-national should seek out to really get a feel for true Canadian culture.

Caveat:  this list is written by an anglophone Canadian born in the 1980s.  There is an obvious bias towards this era and culture.  It is not intentional but difficult to avoid.  I would love for this to be a more rounded list and am definitely open to suggestions.

This is the last edition of the “Quintessential Canadian” list.  This list is for someone to dig further into the Canadian psyche and get to know some of our beloved or at least well-known.  Some people could have easily been on this list but were included in other categories.  There are also many Canadians who have done extraordinary things but this isn’t that list.

PS.  Look for connections between members of the list (and other lists I’ve posted).  The six-degrees of Canadian celebrities really only needs 3 or 4 degrees.  What an incestuous little celebrity culture we have.

Personalities (Alphabetical)

Bondar,  Dr. Roberta – my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (affectionately known as “the Soo”) tries hard.  If you’re driving across Canada east-to-west you’ll drive into this city of 70 000 and come across a sign touting everything The Soo can think to brag about.  This list is short but it does point out factually that Dr. Bondar finds her origins there.  We named a giant white perma-tent pavilion after her and it sets the Soo “skyline” apart.
Point of Fame:  first female Canadian astronaut AND the very first Canadian neurologist in space.  That’s right, it wasn’t enough to be an expert on brains she decided she needed to GO TO SPACE, too.  This lady is bad ass.  She’s made contributions to space medicine.  SPACE. MEDICINE.  Talk about a specialty.  I wonder what the residency is like for that.  Oh, and she’s really nice.
Do your research:  She has a website that has an obnoxious number of achievements.  Attend a lecture.  Check out one (or all four) of her photography books from the library – I’ve got Touching the Earth myself.  Signed. No big deal.

Cherry, Don – this one is a debatable entry.  Liked or not it would be tough to have grown up in Canada and not have any idea who this was.  If only to be able to identify his outrageously coloured and patterned trademark suits.  But he got his name in hockey; hockey is Canada’s sport and Don Cherry knows hockey.  He played for the minor leagues for 20 years, coached professional hockey for years but he is best known for talking (loudly) about hockey on TV and radio.  Mr. Cherry has been co-hosting Coach’s Corner in the intermission of Hockey Night in Canada since the 1980s.  He is loud, brash, and not afraid of controversy – he likes his hockey “tough” and Canadian.

Do your research:  Tune in to Hockey Night in Canada on a Saturday night.  Try it at a sports bar.  Remember to do your research on acceptable jerseys and colours for the location 😉  Google image the man for an overview of attire – and a good chuckle.  Read Don Cherry’s Hockey Stories and Stuff by the man himself.

That was a relatively tame ensemble.

Clarkson, Adrienne – it took until 1999 for Canada to choose a non-white Governor General and she was the one.  Originally from Hong Kong she grew up in Ottawa and went on to have a career with CBC as a journalist and book reviewer.  But her role as GG was one of the more controversial.  Some feel that she rejuvenated and modernized a very stuffy institution – others felt that she was too extravagant, blowing previous GG Office budgets out of the water for high profile stunts like touring other northern nations and meeting with their leaders.  Now that she’s all done causing controversy at Rideau Hall she has founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship with her husband John Ralston Saul (see Quintessentially Canadian (Authors)).

Do your research:  or don’t. Just wikipedia her.  Then wikipedia what a Governor General is and why Canada even has one.

Dallaire, Romeo – Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire is an advocate for mental health and against the use of child soldiers.  He developed these two particular passions by nearly losing his life to both of them.  Dallaire is most well-known for his work in Rwanda with the United Nations as a peacekeeper during the 1994 genocide.  The notoriety, unfortunately, came mostly in hindsight after he stayed on to attempt to save Tutsis using limited resources and limited staff with limited training.  His book, Shake Hands with the Devil, is painful to read not only for the recount of the senseless killing but for his repeated requests for help from the international community and the general refusal for anyone to become involved.  That brings us to his other passion: mental health.  He suffers from PTSD from his experience and attempted suicide in 2000.  He is listed as author, humanitarian, retired general and Canadian senator.

Do your research:  don’t be illiterate – read Shake Hands with the Devil and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children.  Then you can watch the 2007 film that shares a title with the first book.

Douglas, Shirley – Ms. Douglas is a good example of the tightly-woven network of Canadian elite.  She is the daughter of Tommy Douglas* and mother of actor Kiefer Sutherland.  She is a feisty lady out-spoken about publicly funded healthcare but initially revealed her prowess in acting for roles like Nellie McClung and as part of the science fiction series Flash Gordon.

Do your research:  Watch her  in films like Lolita (1962) and television series The Wind at my Back.  Google her and read

*Saskatchewan politician credited with the creation of universal health care in Canada.  He probably belongs on this list, too.

Gomeshi, Jian – If you follow CBC radio recently this gentleman is somewhat ubiquitous.  He is a bit of an up-and-comer on this list.    Since 2007 the 45-year-old has hosted Q defined as a “cultural affairs talk program”.  His interview show gets critical acclaim, one of the largest audiences of the time slot and airs throughout the US as well.  Plus many other media organizations turn to him for input on cultural matters (including Conan O’Brien, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, etc.).  Plus his voice is so soothing.

Do your research:  His radio show Q is video-recorded and offered free on youtube.  Watch it.  Then read 1982 his recently-released memoir about that year.  It has now spent 5 weeks on the best-sellers list.  Don’t forget his band Moxy Fruvous.  Youtube it just for his long hair.

Don’t miss that painful interview with an immature Billy Bob Thornton.

Gretzky, Wayne – another hockey-related entry to the list.  Mr. Gretzky embodies hockey in Canada and internationally – number 99 or “The Great One”.  Quite the accolade to carry.  14 years after retiring from 20 years of playing professional hockey with the NHL he still holds a number of records for point-scoring.  But it is not just that he played our sport better than pretty much anyone else it is that he did it humbly.  Canadians love a humble hero.  He wasn’t a brute on the ice but triumphed by reading the game and being a member of the team.

Do your research:  Read his autobiography (aptly named Gretzky).  Take a trip to Edmonton (call me when you get here!) and stand beside his statue outside of Rexall Place to commemorate his time playing for the Edmonton Oilers from 1979-1988.  Take a trip to Toronto to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame into which he was inducted after his retirement in 1999 and then walk a few blocks down the road to eat as his restaurant by Rogers Centre.

Layton, Jack – Adding this man to the list will be a controversial choice especially in Alberta but, well, I’m biased and I don’t care.  Jack Layton passed away from cancer in 2011 at the top of his career as the charismatic yet down-to-earth leader of the federal New Democratic Party and the official opposition.  He was a force leading towards a shift in Canadian politics – had he not died we may have seen the NDP go further in Canadian politics.  My one face-to-face encounter with Layton made an impression on me – I was running near his neighbourhood on the Danforth in Toronto when I encountered him with a guitar, standing on the sidewalk singing and playing as a busker to raise money for the relief effort in Africa.  Plus he married fellow politician Olivia Chow and accidentally thanked her mother “for the good sex” at their first meeting (those Cantonese tones!).  Like him or not his funeral was truly a display of affection and mourning across the country.

Do your research:  Watch the TV movie Smilin’ Jack:  The Jack Layton Story (his wife, Olivia, portrayed by Sook-Yin Lee – the next on this list).  Read a collection of stories about him Love, Hope, Optimism:  An Intimate Portrait of Jack Layton by Those Who Knew Him.  He also wrote books about social issues he felt passionately about like homelessness.  Homelessness:  How to End a National Crisis.  Watch his funeral to see what he meant to Canadians.

Lee, Sook-Yin – another young* notable making her mark on Canadian culture.  This entry might be a bit pre-emptive but I don’t see her going away.  She first became known outside of the Vancouver indie music scene (leading Bob’s Your Uncle) as a VJ on MuchMusic in 1995 at a time when the channel held significant sway with the youth of Canada.  She left in 2001 and in 2002 she began to host the CBC’s radio show Definitely Not the Opera (DNTO) and continues to do so today.  She has acted in a few films including a controversial, sexually explicit Shortbus in 2003.

Do your research:  Tune in to DNTO on a Saturday afternoon (or stream any time on the website).  Listen to some of her solo attempts in the two albums Lavinia’s Tongue (1994) and Wigs n’ guns (1996).  Watch Shortbus (I haven’t seen it, you cannot blame me if it scars you) and see her portray Olivia Chow in the upcoming love story film about Jack Layton.

*Even wikipedia doesn’t know her actual age

Mansbridge, Peter  – Like a young girl scooped to be a model while shopping with friends at the mall, Mr. Mansbridge’s newscasterly voice was discovered by a CBC radio host when he made an announcement at work at the Churchill (Manitoba) Airport as a baggage handler.  And he hasn’t looked back offering his voice to the news since the late 1960s.  Canadians associate him with reporting on major national and international events for over from 1995-present as the host of CBC news The National.
Canada has a great line of national news reporters – this could have been Lloyd Robertson or Peter Jennings as well but for some reason I picked Peter and he can represent them all.

Do your research: Tune in to The National 6 days a week.

Stroumboulopoulos, George – of course I had to google how to spell his last name.  Another person on this list to get his start as a VJ on MuchMusic (2000-2004).  He now hosts The Hour – a talk show about current world issues, politics and pop culture with the pitch to reach younger audiences.  Apparently his name is so big they changed the show to George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. A few SLPeeps and I attended a live taping of his show at CBC in Toronto and, in person, he is just as laid-back but quick and intelligent as the show would suggest.

Do your research:  Catch GST (The Hour – really, why change a good thing?) for free on youtube.  Better yet – get your rear end to Toronto and pick up some free tickets to see a live-taping Mon-Thurs.  Don’t forget to book in advance.

Suzuki, David – Imagine walking in to your genetics class at the University of British Columbia and seeing that the professor was the beloved host of the TV show The Nature of Things.  That was a reality until 2001 when he retired.  Although he has given us his advocacy about climate change, sustainability and the David Suzuki Foundation he spent part of his early childhood in the Canadian internment camps for people of Japanese heritage.  The shame.  After all that he kindly brought us the science CBC radio show Quirks and Quarks that still airs today although with a different host.  With the way the Harper government is acting lately we need Dr. Suzuki more than ever.

Do your research:  Watch his show The Nature of Things.  Read David Suzuki: An Autobiography.  If you have the time, read one of his other 51 books about nature, sustainability, ethics and climate change.  Sign up for the newsletter of his foundation.

Trudeau, Pierre – the 15th Prime Minister of Canada (Liberal Party of Canada) and probably one of the most internationally recognized Canadian politicians.  He is a divisive figure that gathered praise for bringing in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms during his time in office and dodging a close call with the separatist movement but who can still be vehemently disliked by Western Canadians for what they saw as meddling with oil wealth and poorly managing funds.  He was a staunch nationalist who promoted the Canadian Identity.

Do your research:  Memoirs by Trudeau is one of the best-selling Canadian books of all time.  Maybe get your hands on a copy.  If you can find it try watching the 1999 documentary Just Watch Me:  Trudeau and the 70s Generation.

Discuss: how far off the mark was I?

I debated some of the entries:  Stephen Lewis was going to make the list but I changed my last minute because he may not be as much of a household name as I initially thought.  Shirley Douglas was added at the last minute, honestly, to beef up the ladies’s representation on the list.  Sook-Yin Lee is debatable (as I mentioned) but I took the time to write that so, dammit, I’m leaving it up!

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Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan (2/5)

I’ve got about 3 weeks left and 3 more books to go.  At least this last one was the longest of the 5 books.  At first I thought that Two Solitudes and February (see that review here) were extremely different because the types of prose and style of story telling is so opposite.  The more I compare the two I realize that they share a common theme:  memory.  Memory of individuals and memory of cultures.  It will be interesting to see if that theme plays out for the whole Canada Reads 2013 series.

Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan

This is a tough book to review, especially with such a sound Afterword by Richard Kroetsch but I’ll try to add something new to the discussion.  Discovering and reading this book was a bit of a cultural aha! moment – I had missed a reference that those-in-the-know of Canadian culture/literature would not have missed.  But now I am in on the secret.  Before I read this book (or was even introduced to it by Canada Reads) I attended a talk by the Canadian author Joseph Boyden that he entitled Three Solitudes.  He then proceeded to discuss the plight of First Nations youth (including suicide) in Canada without mention of which solitudes he was speaking.  I had thought it meant the solitude of self vs. culture or phases in our lives where we may feel solitary.  That wasn’t really it at all.

The book Two Solitudes comments on the anglophone vs francophone culture in Canada from 1917-1939, through the first world war and to the start of the second.  French vs English.  Joseph Boyden was making a statement by adding a third solitude about the fact that Canada was founded by 3 cultures, not two:  English, French and First Nations people.  He was also hinting at how the First Nations had been (yet again) so easily overlooked and at how we continue to overlook a lack of hope in those communities today.

But back to the book in question.  The author creates two generations of Canadians at various levels on the French-English continuum.  But there are multiple continua at play in this novel.  It also examines the dichotomies (or solitudes) of men and women, Catholic and Protestant, older generation and younger generation.

There are also levels of prejudice.  Some people slip easily between cultures and others are penalized when they cannot choose a side be it a cultural side, a religion or a traditional gender role.

Perhaps the most penalized is Athanase Tallard, a Quebecois man from a small village who becomes a member of parliament.  He is a member of the older generation yet he is more open to change and the breaking of cultural boundaries.  He has been married to both a model Roman Catholic francophone and an Irish woman – both bore him a son.  He even challenges religion and the importance of the denomination or the presence in one’s life at all.  The other members of the village are not generally supportive of his toe-dipping into Protestantism.  But he is the older generation – he raised one of his sons, Paul, to jump easily between the two solitudes and this gap-bridging seems a bit less frowned-upon in Paul Tallard’s generation.

It is a good look at ends of spectrums in Canada between the world wars.  It examines the struggle for people who did not fit into one box.  A must-read for anyone interested in Canadian culture and literature.  If nothing else you won’t miss overt cultural references in educated circles.

A few favourite quotes:

Athanase Tallard reflecting on why he found the need to ruffle feathers around him, to prove something about his manhood or place

Nothing was left to him but principles and ideas. ‘God’ he thought, ‘is that all there is to it?’ And then it occurred to him that perhaps all wars and revolutions and movements of history started from sources just as trivial and undignified.  He saw the people in their churches and nationalisms huddling together under flags and banners in desperate attempts to escape the knowledge of their own predicament.  They were all silhouettes moving almost accidentally for seventy years or so over the ridge of the world between darkness and darkness.  Among them he saw himself.

The next is an excerpt from the perspective of Huntly McQueen, older generation, wealthy capitalist commenting to himself on Heather Methuen – an English-Canadian woman from the younger generation.

If Heather was a sample of the younger generation there was going to be trouble.  McQueen wanted to be just, but he doubted if he was exaggerating.  Where there was smoke there was generally fire.  Heather had allowed some of the younger professors at the university to put ideas into her head.  She had made some very unnecessary and annoying remarks at the table about the values of socialism.  McQueen saw no necessity for it whatever.  He was convinced that the last thing any socialist ever wanted was to be forced to accept power.  Idealists were all the same.  And yet they were mischievous.  They opened up the masses to the real scoundrel who invariably followed them.  Look what had happened to Germany!  The socialists had preached idealism but the only result of their pernicious meddling was Hitler.  McQueen clucked his tongue.  It served them right.

And here is one more interesting quote (from the McQueen character, again) that hints at keeping social order by brainwashing the uneducated masses and squashing too much independent thought or access to it.  Not my usual picture of Canada.

McQueen thought how sharp a contrast he could make between the United States and Canada, if he went about it skillfully.  In Canada, first of all, there were the two races:  each could be employed to balance the other.  Then there were the churches:  they were filled every Sunday, and it was possible for the whole nation to excite itself over a theological dispute.  But the real point was this:  ten per cent of all college graduates, perhaps not the most brilliant men but certainly the most restless of the lot, found it so difficult to get what they wanted in Canada that you could always count on them drifting south to the States.  That made enormously for stability above the border.  Down there they could write their books and broadcast their ideas, and compared to the average American they were probably fairly stable citizens.  Yes, McQueen thought with satisfaction, we have discovered a great social secret in Canada.  We have contrived to solve problems which would ruin other countries merely by ignoring their existence.

I marked pages and pages with quotes to share but I won’t bore you with all of them.  Besides, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself.

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The DapperDame finds a a treasure

My day started with checking on Ida-the-cat.  The next stop was the ever-changing Strathcona Antiques Mall.  While browsing through antique bed pans, 60s retro lamps and Depression-era glass I received a text from the lovely ShanWoww to invite me to…the Strathcona Antiques Mall!  What are the odds?  After waxing nostalgic for a while we headed to Block 1912, a new-to-me cafe on trendy Whyte Ave.  Go for the atmosphere, not so much for the prices.  Expect to pay high prices for mediocre offerings but a lovely place to sit and enjoy it.

Trying this new place I was rewarded with a surprise.  Reading on a comfy couch I noticed that the coffee table holding my latte was actually a chest with a drawer.  Being the nosy person that I am I opened the drawer.  Apparently that is a natural reaction because this is what I found:

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For at least the last 5 years people have been creating this little time capsule of poems, jokes, memories, messages and sketches.  I could have spent the whole afternoon in there but I’ll save something for my next visit.  It felt like I had found something sacred and secret.  Every few minutes I would glance around the room – “Had anyone noticed what I was doing?” – the napkins are in a public space but felt private somehow, like I was snooping.

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Someone didn’t appreciate Bryce’s contribution.

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I don’t have a dog. Whew.

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I’m glad Jen Sipi found what she was looking for.

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Maybe this person should grow some balls him/herself and do the asking. I wonder if they ever got their date…

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Forest girl – so many possible connotations. A fairy? Survivorwoman? Someone who graduated from forestry studies? A mystery.

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People, zombies are over. In fact, it doesn’t matter when you wrote this – they were so over then, too.

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Not exactly how I would want to be remembered in a time capsule.

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Some advice. Advice I can attest to being all too true.

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A love story. Sometimes it does work out.

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“I want to see more French (or less)” – am I an expert translator? English definitely dominated the drawer.

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A napkin update from a Trekkie.

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The end. But they’ll be there waiting for you.

What would you write?

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Quintessentially Canadian (Food)

To recap the inaugural post of this series I have been creating a list of essential music, TV, books, foods and experiences that a non-national should seek out to really get a feel for true Canadian culture.

Instead of ripping off a bunch of google photos that are not mine just google these people.

Most countries/regions take great pride in their well-developed cuisines.  Canada has a smattering of fairly national dishes and most cities have a “style” of food but generally we are a nation of great food but most of it adaptations.  A canadian dinner party would not be out of the question, however.

Alberta beef  – not really on my radar but I get the feeling this is a big deal out here based on the number of people who said “Alberta Beef!” when I asked for suggestions.
Best eaten: at a steakhouse in Alberta? I don’t know, I haven’t eaten it!

Bannock – aka fry bread.  The first time I ate this we cooked it on a stick over a fire at a historical site on the Michipicoten River.  The next time it was at a powwow and it was the improvised shell on an “indian taco”.  Not kidding.
Best eaten:  at an open powwow while you take in the intricate dress and haunting vocal tones during the traditional dances

Beaver Tail – A big, flat piece of fried dough covered in sugar and cinnamon (traditionally).  In other words – heaven.
Best eaten: 
while taking a break to warm up your hands during a long skate down the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

Butter Tarts – a tart with raisins and brown gooey stuff.  Apparently very Canadian.
Best eaten: at my mom’s friend Lois’s house.  I’ll hook you up.

Caesar (drink): vodka + clamato juice + worcestershire sauce + hot sauce + celery stick garnish.  Sometimes the glass is rimmed with salt N’ pepper.  For the uninducted:  clamato juice is exactly what it sounds like – clam broth + tomato juice.  Mouth watering yet?  Mine only waters to dilute the taste of bile in my mouth as I think about it.  But it is popular.
Best drunk: I have no idea.  Not at all?  Out on a house boat on a warm summer night.

Ice Wine – this is perfect for Canada – grow some grapes and then harvest them AFTER they freeze.  Takes care of the short growing season.  And you get an almost unbearably sweet alcoholic beverage.
Best drunk:  on a biking wine tour through Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario).

Ketchup Chips – this really is something with a limited appeal.  Not to say you shouldn’t try it.  The chips are a deep maroon colour and you get a satisfying powdery coating on your fingers, not to mention the staining.  They actually taste better than they sound.
Best eaten:  while watching “Idle Hands” or at a children’s birthday party.

Maple – in any form.  Take a trip in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes just sampling as you go. Pancake houses, maple sugar candies, maple-flavoured bacon and BBQ sauces.
Best eaten: Montreal, dead of winter.  Wander by subway stations or through festivals and look for a small booth made of wood with an unassuming bed of snow at waist level.  For a small fee they’ll pour boiling maple syrup onto the snow and then roll it onto a popsicle stick to form a sticky-gooey, extra-sweet sucker.  You’re welcome.

Montreal Smoked Meat – pieces of dead animal, smoked, shaved into slices and served on rye bread (with mustard if you prefer) and a side of pickle.  And chest pains.
Best eaten:  at Schwarz’s in Montreal.  You’ll have to wait for a table.  You might end up sharing a table with weirdos.  You will not regret it.  Vegetarians exempt.

Nanaimo Bars – named after the city in BC this is a no-bake dessert with oodles of sugar.  3 layers: coconuty cookie layer, vanilla or custard-flavoured butter cream icing layer, shell of melted chocolate.
Best eaten:  for free at a church brunch

Poutine – french fries, cheese curds and poutine sauce.  Take note – this ain’t no regular gravy.  And it best be cheese curds, son.  None’a that shredded mozzarella junk.  If these are in place, you may proceed.
Best eaten: generally in Quebec.  Ask around in Montreal and Quebec city about where the locals go.

Saskatoon Berries – sneaky little poser berries that look kinda like blueberries but have a taste all their own.  They’re a little tougher and a little less sweet than their dopplegangers.
Best eaten: in pie or jam bought at a farmers market somewhere in Saskatchewan (or Alberta).

Screech (Newfoundland) – Strong spirits.  I haven’t had the chance to try it yet.  I’ll let you know.  But I have a feeling it will burn like rubbing alcohol.
Best drunk: at a kitchen party in NFLD.  Even better if someone is fiddling.

Timbits – this should be the easiest on the list.  Grab yourself a double double (coffee) and order a 10 or 20 pack of timbits.  Let them surprise you with a mixed pack.  I recommend the sour cream glazed.
Best eaten: any time, anywhere.

Tourtière – a meat pie from Quebec, sometimes showcasing wild game.  Purely a French-Canadian dish, you might find it on the menu of some up-and-coming restaurants that are going back-to-basics.
Best eaten: anywhere you find francophones and their grandmas.

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The DapperDame is Not

The DapperDame is not a crazy cat lady.  But she sure feels like one this week.  Out of the goodness of my heart I said yes to cat sit for a friend when they found themselves wanting (a cat sitter).  Apparently Ida-the-cat gets lonely and requires an in-house cat sitter.  Since it actually meant being closer to work (a nice, brisk morning walk) and closer to the cool area of the city AND a tassimo machine I agreed.  The friend kindly left me some provisions, including a gift certificate for takeout buffet at a very scrumptious restaurant, and some instructions.  One being more of a warning – “oh, the cat likes to cuddle in the morning.  You don’t have to actually *do* anything, she does all the work.”  What said friend forgot to mention was that Ida’s definition of “morning” is slightly different than mine: 4:14am.  And that Ida’s definition of “cuddle” involves mauling my chest rhythmically while purring in my face.  It’s a good thing you’re pretty darn cute, Ida.

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The Cat Named Ida

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Plus the apartment gives a lovely vantage point for skyline pictures of Edmonton.  Behold the lovely-but-entirely-unremarkable Edmonton skyline.

 

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Daytime

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Nighttime

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This gal likes cats but this gal will not be taking on any responsibilities or early-morning waking machines any time soon.

Quintessentially Canadian (Books and Authors)

To recap the inaugural post of this series I have been creating a list of essential music, TV, books, foods and experiences that a non-national should seek out to really get a feel for true Canadian culture.

Caveat:  this list is written by an anglophone Canadian born in the 1980s.  There is an obvious bias towards this era and culture (and my personal taste).  It is not intentional but difficult to avoid.  I would love for this to be a more rounded list and am definitely open to suggestions.

Instead of ripping off a bunch of google photos that are not mine just google these people.

Authors and Books

Atwood, Margaret – Canada’s golden lady.  Ms. Atwood is someone who has made her writing career international.  Her Handmaid’s Tale is required reading for high school students and can’t be left out of any dystopian world discussion.  She is not a recluse either; you can find her at literary festivals, lending her voice and her opinions to CBC radio at times and, earlier in her career, she was one of Canada’s eminent feminists.  If you’re only going to read one of her books (and you’ve already read 1984) I recommend you go for Oryx and Crake.

Davies, Robertson – This is a dude with one sweet beard.  Speaking of high school reading you should pick up Fifth Business.  Not just novels, Mr. Davies wrote plays, essays, short stories and critiques to boot.  John Irving (aka guy who wrote Cider House Rules) referenced his work in A Prayer for Owen Meany.  You get referenced by other really famous people – snaps.

Coupland, Douglas – he may be from Canada but he brought the whole world the terms Generation X, McJob and under dogging.  He comments on culture, he writes interesting characters and he is a little bit odd.  No one twists words to describe subcultures like he does and he coins new terms  as he goes.  Read his bestsellers (Generation X, JPod) and then read All Families are Psychotic and The Gum Thief just for the characters.

Laurence, Margaret – one of the founders of the Writer’s Trust of Canada she had the chops.  After a spending her young adulthood between the UK and Africa she eventually settled down as a writer in residence at the University of Toronto (way to recognize talent, alma mater).  Her most famous works are novels:  The Diviners and The Stone Angel.  I must admit that I have yet to read anything by her.

Montgomery, Lucy Maud – someone else on this list whose work I haven’t read.  Except I’m not sure I plan to read any of it in the future.  This woman is responsible for tens of thousands of Japanese tourists milling about a small house in Prince Edward Island.  This is based on worship of her most famous series:  Anne of Green Gables.  Check out the website for her very own literary society.

Munro, Alice – Canada is known for exporting comedians and there are plenty of respectable old dudes delivering our news but authorship seems to be where Canadian women really shine.  This is the first and only list in the series that easily has as many women as men and the talent and starpower of the ladies on the list outshine that of the men.  Alice Munro helps round out this women’s circle with some “Southern Ontario Gothic”.  There’s a genre I wasn’t expecting.  You’ll find her mostly stocking the shelves of the short story section.

Ondaatje, Michael – Let’s just put this out there:  I hated The English Patient.  But it was adapted to the screen as a critically acclaimed film and people love his word-smithery.  People other than me.  Perhaps I should give him another chance.

Ralston Saul, John – this dude is a little stuffy but if you can get past that he has quite a bit to offer.  Both a novelist and essayist he thinks deeply about philosophical questions and Canada.  He once gave a free talk at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) about how the new architecture of the building reflected first nations ideals in Canada.  He is either my intellectual superior of completely pulling this stuff out of his arse. Sometimes I can’t decide.  If you read nothing else of his, please pick up The Unconscious Civilization.

Richler, Mordecai – an English and Yiddish-speaking Jewish man growing up in Montreal.  There’s good memoir fodder for the an author with the right skills.  He crossed genres writing novels, essays and children’s books (notably the Jacob Two-Two series) and wasn’t afraid to make political statements about Anglo-Franco relations in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!

Shields, Carol – Atwood and Munro had better keep the candle alight for female Canadian authors since the lovely Carol Shields is deceased like many of the other ladies on this list.  Not to mention that Atwood better finish that third and final instalment of the Oryx and Crake series, she ain’t getting any younger.  She actually became Canadian later in life.  Smart lady.  Ms. Shields left us short stories, poetry and novels to point out that her Stone Diaries – the only novel to win both the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction (1995) and the Giller Prize (1993).  Go, Carol!

This list requires a bit more on all of our parts.  There is so much richness here but we need to take the time to explore it.

Edit:

I mentioned that this list would be a work in progress.  Thanks to bethaf for reminding me of the delightful Robert Munsch.  And what would a list of Canadian authors be without Pierre Berton?

Berton, Pierre – This gentleman was a prolific author who is not only Canadian but used Canadian history and culture as his primary subject matter.  On top of writing his own works he has been involved in a number of iconic Canadian institutions such as CBC (Close Upand as an editor for Macleans magazine.  He has written over 50 books so just pick one.  In fact, he may even belong on my personalities edition but he’s here now so here he stays.

Munsch, Robert – He is a bit of a strange man.  But he writes brilliant children’s books so we’ll forgive him some eccentricities.  There are very few new babies that won’t find Love You Forever in their libraries.  My personal favourite of his books is Purple, Green and Yellow (superindeliblenevercomeoffuntilyou’redeadandmaybeevenlater colouring markers) while his possibly best-known work is The Paperbag Princess.  He lives in the same town where my alma mater is situated and once, on Halloween, I accompanied a friend dress in a large paper bag complete with dirt-on-face to trick-or-treat at his home.  He was not that amused.  His cassette tape recordings of him animatedly reading the stories made many a long car-ride bearable as a child.  Check out his website to hear them for yourself.

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