Friday, September 12, 2008

Fernwood Odyssey

We've had three straight weeks of beautiful sunshine in Victoria, something that used to be called Indian Summer. Technically, an Indian Summer doesn't happen until after the first frost, but we may not have a frost in Victoria until December or January so we have to make do. When I used that expression a few days ago someone got quite cross. It's not Indians, I was informed, it's 'First Nations.' Well, somehow that doesn't sound euphonious to my ears and if it offends the sensibilities of the politically indoctrinated, so much the better. In fact, I was minded to use the lesser used folkloric term and mention the Squaw Summer that preceded the Indian Winter. That's when a foretaste of winter occurs in late summer, as in the week or two of cool and cloudy weather we had in late August.
Because it was such a lovely day I decided to pay a visit to our local Institute of Political Indoctrination, to wit the University of Victoria. It is actually in a lovely location on a height above Cadboro Bay. It was established during the administration of W.A.C Bennett in the days when it was thought that a university campus should be located off the beaten track. Hothouses of intellectual endeavor. If only he had known that students of 'women's studies' would receive academic credit for walking around the campus hand in hand.
Anyway, the visit didn't turn out very well. I thought I would start out with a coffee at the cafe next to the bus loop. Many others had the same idea and were lined up at the counter. I always figure that businesses who allow long line ups at their checkout counters are more interested in saving a nickle than serving their customers, so I took a pass and went upstairs to the bookstore. There a turnstile blocked the way with a sign that said "Leave Backpacks at Entrance." It seems the acolytes at our Institute of Political Indoctrination are assumed by the management to be thieves. This thought did not encourage me to leave my backpack with my iBook inside unattended at the entry. No coffee, no bookstore, what next? Well, I decided to scrap my agenda of taking pictures around the campus, perhaps finding a shady spot to work on my blogs and use my still valid bus transfer to go someplace else.
The someplace else was the neighborhood known as Fernwood. I've hardly seen the place since I gave up cab driving. Once a precinct of lower level office workers trying to raise status by proximity to their betters in Oak Bay, during the sixties and seventies Fernwood became home to upwardly mobile hippies. Clinging to their hash pipes all the while, they managed to ensconce themselves in this declining neighborhood of older houses and overgrown yards. Without a viable grocery source it doesn't quite attain village status, unless the Fernwood Inn pub is a suitable alternative. Oh, yes, it has Culture, too, with the Belfry Theatre occupying a deconsecrated church.
Since those hippie days it has become a stronghold of Political Indoctrination. Yards often have signs in them expressing support for Tibet, and opposition to tanker traffic along the BC coast. You won't see many Conservative Party signs in this neck of the woods, and and if there were any they would be soon vandalized. When Political Indoctrinaires howl for free speech they mean their own free speech, nobody elses. You will see higher concentration of Green Party signs here than elsewhere, but mostly you will see NDP supporters are most common. I find it hard to tell the difference between them except that the NDP is an indigenous Canadian socialist party while the Greens, a creation of Stasi, the East German secret police, are international in scope. It's like a franchise. The Americans export MacDonalds' franchises, the not quite dead Marxism corpse sends out the products its own- propaganda, subversion, and malice.
The high school was breaking for lunch as I approached downtown Fernwood and I see that gothic is in among the children and grandchildren of hippiedom who settled here. Tattooed and body pierced they seemed to me a sad lot. Still, the neighborhood is quite attractive to me, the streets lined with beautiful trees, the yards planted with flowers. These trees were planted by people with pride in their city and neighborhood. They wanted it to be beautiful, long before anybody had ever heard of an environmentalist. I wonder how many trees the Greens have planted. The original occupants built a cozy neighborhood. I don't think the kids will go too far wrong. But if they do turn out to be contented and proud citizens of our fair city, it won't be the fault of all the drug dealers who also abound in the neighborhood. It really isn't much of a step up from Mommy and Daddy toking in the back yard while the barbie is on to smoking crack or doing ecstasy- its all about having a good time, isn't it?
Fernwood is centered around Fernwood Street and Gladstone, where the pub, the theatre and a few small commercial enterprises congregate. It's bounded to the north by Bay Street, to the south by Pandora, to the west gradually becomes North Park, and almost makes it to the Jubilee Hospital to the east. I started my walk at the Stadacona Park near the Oak Bay Junction. As a cab driver I drove by it thousands of times but aside from the time I chased a runner through it I had never visited it before. Secluded from the traffic by dense shrubbery, it opens out to tranquil green space presided over by many magnificent specimens of the tribe of trees.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

BC Day

The province's 150th birthday was celebrated on Monday. Both Gordon Campbell, the premier of BC, and Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada were on hand to make speeches from the steps of the legislature at noon.
The ceremonies began with the obligatory genuflection to our natives who gave the crowd a little sample of their traditional music. Was it followed by a reading from the bible? Of course not, silly. You see, while all sorts of ethnic groups were lauded for their wonderful contributions, whitey and his religion are incorrigible villains, racists, imperialists, who must apologize for everything that goes wrong in the world.
I have lots of memories of how Americans celebrate Independence Day. It's almost like Christmas, only the weather is nice. Families and neighbors, kids, young parents, old people, gather in back yards all over the country to celebrate. Softball games, lots of homemade fried chicken, potato salad, cherry pie, the men smoking and drinking beer while talking politics, the kids shooting off firecrackers. These good times were spontaneous expressions of pride in their country. They were Americans, and knew how
In Canada on the the other hand, public holidays remind me of summer camp for kids. The kids are only interested in playing and having fun, but the camp attendants have already decided how the little urchins will spend there time. Programs are thought up, and the leaders' job is to whip up some enthusiasm among their charges. A Canadian public holiday is like that. The politicians have to invent slogans and activities to show how wonderful they are- that is the politicians and the bureaucracy who, out of the goodness of their hearts, and with our best interests in mind, run things for our benefit.
You see, something strange has happened in the last thirty or forty years. our history has been deconstructed. Where schoolchildren were once regaled with stirring tales of French voyageurs, intrepid explorers and courageous missionaries, they are now told how evil we were. For instance, in the nineteenth century it was thought that it would be a good thing if native children were taught how to read and write, how to carry on trades and practice agriculture. The reasoning was that nobody in their right mind would want to freeze and starve in a tepee all winter. And of course, to participate in the affairs of the world at large, it was essential to know English or French and so they were not allowed to use their own languages. Because the government itself had no money the task was foisted off on religious orders who were willing to work for nothing. These 'Residential Schools' are now deemed to have been criminal for which every politician must now apologize. Ensuing lawsuits have enriched many a legal firm in the last few years and large quantities of cash have been shoveled out to native activists to assuage our guilt.
That isn't the only demoralizing message drummed into the Canadian psyche over the years, but they all add up to one overarching theme: all us white, heterosexual, Christian Canadians- of the type who built this country from the ground up- are nothing but a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic, fat, intolerant, narrow-minded honkies who pollute the earth.
For some reason our ruling classes are surprised to have discovered an alarming decline in enthusiasm among the hoi polloi for Canada. To solve the problem our rulers have resorted to thinking up vacuous slogans and putting on boring concerts that have absolutely nothing to do with anything that happened a century and a half ago.
You see, unlike Americans, we didn't have to fight for our freedoms.
Well, I liked the Snowbirds. They are the acrobatic team of the Canadian Air Force. The fact that they fly aircraft that are veritable antiques- the country isn't really worth fighting for as far as our leaders are concerned- because all that military stuff doesn't fit our manufactured image of a 'peacekeeping nation.' That in itself says a lot about how much we've declined as a nation since the early post war years.
Still, as the speechifying politicians told us, BC is one of the best places in the world to live. But it is no thanks to our politicians, and the 'progressive' forces they kowtow to, it is in spite of them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Old Morris Tobacconists

Sometimes I think the human busybody is the lowest form of life in the world. One of Victoria's most prominent busybodies is named John Stanwyck. He is the public health officer for the Capital Regional District and has been in the vanguard of the local anti-smoking brigade since I came here. And don't ask me what the CRD is. I've never figured that out. All I know is that nobody gets to vote directly for the people who sit on it but they have a lot of control over things in our neck of the woods.
I don't really have a dog in this fight. I quit smoking 20 years ago and like a lot of ex smokers I now abhor the smell of cigarette smoke. I quit smoking because it was damaging my health, it was expensive, and I didn't like being enslaved to an addiction. And besides, I hate paying taxes. So I stopped smoking. It wasn't easy to stop but it wasn't that hard, either, and I was a heavy smoker. It was like having a mild case of the flu for a few weeks and for a few years afterward a vague sense of unease persisted that was only slightly more annoying than the poorly healed fracture in my little finger that I got from punching out a marine in an Olangapo bar forty years ago. (Is that how you spell Olangapo?) It's still a little stiff. So as someone who detests the smell of cigarette smoke I rather like it that bars and restaurants now have breathable air. But I was perfectly content with non smoking areas which usually meant I could always find a place to sit. Because I think if somebody chooses to smoke it's their business, not mine.
As the years rolled by, the taxes became more punitive and the smoking regulations got stiffer. A few years ago smoking in bars was banned altogether. Now here's the problem with the busybody mentality: Sometimes their initiatives cause harm. It just so happens that drinking beer and smoking cigarettes go together. It's what you call conviviality, where people get to be friendly and sociable in a public place. That's a good thing. Smoking has a wealth of hospitality rituals, like the offering of a cigarette to a new acquaintance. In many parts of the world a pack of smokes is the most reliable local currency. Some years ago a terrific jazz festival in Montreal had to shut down because the cigarette company that sponsored it was no longer allowed to use its name in the promotions.
We have a very lovely little smoke shop in downtown Victoria that may have to shut down because of the latest set of anti smoking rules which require that tobacco products not be visible to the tender under nineteen youths smoking pot outside the doors. It's one of those shops that you want to patronize just because you like it so much, so I started smoking a pipe a few years ago, and still do once in a while. That's what they sell: pipes, cigars, accessories, all in a store from a bygone era.
But of course it didn't mean anything to the busybodies that those iconic Canadian beer halls went broke, putting their employees out of work, and it won't matter that a 120 year old tobacconist might have to close its doors. Busybodies, you might notice, while deeply concerned for your welfare in the abstractcare nothing at all for individual people. We are merely little pieces on the board of the games they like to play to be moved around or tossed aside according to whatever the latest enthusiasm might be.
I agree that it would be a good thing to reduce smoking. But is it up to an unelected bureaucrat to tell me whether I can smoke or not? That bureaucrat has no compunction about charging exorbitant taxes for the privilege of allowing us to do something he disapproves of. Sounds like a shakedown racket to me, paid for mostly by the poor cigarette butt pickers who can't pay seven bucks for a deck of smokes. And while cigarette smokers (and pipe smokers- the same pouch of pipe tobacco that cost me $10 a few years ago now costs $22) are treated like garbage, junkies get free needles. Go figure.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Trip to Vancouver

Generally speaking I don't believe governments should interfere in the marketplace- but if they do I'll take advantage of the situation. For instance, now that I'm a BC Senior I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I can now ride the ferries for free. (As a foot passenger) So now I can take a day trip to Vancouver for the price of the bus fares plus lunch. I don't know how it works. Does the government reimburse BC Ferries for my fare, or does the company have to eat it?
BC Ferries is a crown corporation, which is an entity peculiar to Canada, a hybrid government/private monopoly that is supposed to operate at arms length to government but which is entrusted with advancing policy goals. We have lots of them in BC. The auto insurance company is one, the hydroelectric utility is another. Canadians have always been leery of private companies because we prefer to avoid the messiness of competition in favour of safe and secure jobs and a reliable return on investment- if you know the right people. It's a fantasy world we live in. Sometimes they make sense, like when massive capital investments were needed to finance building of hydroelectric dams and private capital wasn't available. I don't know much about that kind of stuff but I do know the Insurance Corporation of BC has become arrogant and a law unto itself.
I didn't mean to go into the pros and cons of crown corporations in this post but wanted to ease myself back into this blog by describing what a lot of trouble it is to get on and off the island. That can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at life. Some of us like the semi isolation of living on an island with that buffer zone of salt chuck between us and the big bad world. The last ferry for the mainland leaves at 9pm and the last scheduled flight leaves about eleven. That makes Victoria a sleepy kind of place, which is OK with me. For the young and ambitious it's not so good. And sometimes even low key me gets a little bit of cabin fever. So now I'm enjoying the opportunity to get to Vancouver so cheaply.
However cheap it is in cash, it's not so cheap in time if you take public transit. I've been catching the 9am ferry. For that I need to catch a bus downtown at 7:30. If you were to drive directly from downtown to the ferry dock at the top end of the Saanich Peninsula it would take about twenty minutes at that time of day. But on the bus it takes an hour. However, I don't mind it. When you've driven taxi for 25 years it's quite pleasant to sit in the upper section of a double decker bus while it winds its way north. From that vantage point the lush fields, the islands in the distance, Mt Baker even farther are pleasant to look at. I understand they are going to start an express route to the ferry which would make it a little quicker.
The ferry ride is also very attractive as it winds between some of those islands you can see from the highway. Active Pass between Galiano and Mayne Islands is so narrow that you could throw rocks at the boat from shore. They seem near enough to touch and yet remote at the same time. On the boat you are a creature of the water. After you get through the pass the Gulf of Georgia opens out and gradually the low shore of the Fraser River delta creeps closer. Big seagoing coal carriers tie up at Roberts Bank next to the ferry terminal to be fed by the long trains coming from the interior.
There is no direct city bus from Tsawassen to downtown Vancouver where the ferry docks at 10:30 so you have to wait at the Ladner exchange for a transfer. It's a dowdy piece of pavement with only a MacDonalds a block away in the way of amenities.
In all it's another hour and a half before you get to downtown Vancouver about noon. That makes in all four and a half hours of traveling time between Victoria and Vancouver.
After so long away from Vancouver I was surprised at how much I enjoyed seeing it again. It was a beautiful clear Monday and after downloading a bunch of music at the library I walked down to the West End where I had lived for a number of years. I first saw English Bay in summer of '68 when I wasn't exactly straight after hitchhiking from Edmonton. I had just been dropped off by the hippie couple who had picked me up in Hope a few hours before. The sun was getting low on the horizon and the panorama of sea and mountain was astonishingly beautiful. People sat around on logs on the beach to take in the show as if it was an outdoor arena. I found an empty log of my own and watched an attractive young woman come onto the beach from the a mermaid coming from the wrong direction. Amongst all the other people on the beach she picked me out of the crowd and made a bee line for my log. Wonderful, I thought, thinking I must be lookin' good. But, no. I just looked like an easy mark. Something about me just stands out in that way. It turned out she had some sort of religious pamphlet she wanted me to read.
It's just as beautiful as ever, is First Beach at English Bay, right at the bottom of Davie Street. This is one end of the seawall walk that goes around Stanley Park. The West End hasn't changed as much as the rest of the downtown area, although the shops have different tenants. No more English Bay Books or English Bay Cookies. But the Sylvia Hotel is still there as graceful and serene as ever. I treated myself to an ale in their very pleasant pub.
The return trip to Victoria is another seven and a half hours of travel, but I like the ferry trip. A bluegrass/Nova Scotia type band had set up in a corner of the forward lounge of the ship and judging by all the cash that filled the guitar case, everybody seemed to enjoy the impromptu concert.
As I headed back home, realized I really miss the vitality of Vancouver. As much as I love Victoria, it has a small town mentality that gets wearisome after a while.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Victoria in January

I've not been meaning to neglect this blog but between the holiday season and another blog I'm trying to get underway I haven't been able to give it much attention. At any rate, I intend to spend more time writing specifically about Victoria rather than the more serious topics that I'll be discussing on the other blog.
Victoria is a photogenic old girl and I like to take pictures of her. Tomorrow will be February and any time she will be pinning daffodils and cherry blossoms to her pinafore. During last week's cool sunny weather I looked for the first blooms but the best I could find were these buds almost bursting to pop out.
Victoria has lots of moods. In the winter she can be dull and gray for days and weeks on end, but as the days get longer she brightens up for a few days or a week at a time and cheers everybody up. Some days she can be dull and gray one moment, stormy and windy the next and then suddenly break out in bright sunshine. The signs are in the sky and clouds for everybody to see, and she has a huge sky for a canvas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Springtime in January

The Christmas/New Years commotion always incapacitates me. Now that it's over I'll try to get back to posting here regularly. I'll make things easy on myself today by uploading a few photos I took yesterday. It was cool, dry and sunny, a classic Victoria January harbinger of spring. I took a friend around with me to show him a few of my favourite spots which he, lacking a car, had never seen. Esquimault Lagoon is a bird sanctuary,and just up the hill is Fort Rodd Hill, a fortification built in the late 19th Century. Below the fort is the Fisgard Lighthouse. These locations are in the Colwood/Langford area west of Victoria proper, but easily accessible by bicycle from town.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A year and a day

Often I read that all one has to do to find out some bit of information is to google it. Maybe I'm just not very good at phrasing my query properly, but more often than not all I get back is irrelevancy, triviality and repetition. My most recent attempt concerned the language in Gawain and the Green Knight. This is one of my favourite stories from the period of Grail literature. I was reminded of it because a number of articles in my regular readings brought it up. One of the writers described the language as moderately challenging. Hah! Here's how it starts, as nearly as I remember:
Sithen the assaut was sesed at Troye
The borgh brittened and brent to brandez and askes
The tulk that the trammes of tresoune there wrought
Was tried for his treacherie,
The trewest on erthe...

I can pretty well read it now, with good comprehension of maybe 60% of it, very poor comprehension of another 10% and of most of the rest I'm pretty shaky. I don't take to it quite as readily as to Chaucer who wrote about the same time. The dialect is different. Even today some English dialects sound like foreign languages, and the Gawain poet's language was far closer to Old English than Chaucer's. Old English really has to be studied as a foreign language and there aren't really that many texts to read. So I tried to find a source that would help reduce the opacity of the text. But all I found were essays like "Colonialism and the Green Knight," and the "Wicca symbolism in the Green Knight." Colonialism? In 14th Century English Midlands? Wicca, a bogus invention of silly Neopagans? Obviously departments of medieval studies have descended into triviality as much as classics departments.
So I gave up. I don't really enjoy playing with my computer like some people do. Too bad, because I love our English language, and I love the Green Knight story. I went through my Grail literature phase about twenty years ago and it's still a favourite of mine. Along with Wolfram's Parsifal it seems to stand out from all the others for its strangeness. The strangeness is more than a function of the differences between our modern world and the medieval period. It hints at cultural currents that have largely been ignored by mainstream histories, perhaps because of a lack of records.
One of the elements I find especially curious in most of the Grail romances is the significance of sisters' sons. There are no indications that either Germanic or Latin cultures would be interested in sisters' sons and in the medieval context it would not even make any sense. So why these references? My uneducated guess: evidence of a matrilineal succession of kingship. It would be an interesting way of doing it, changing the psychology of inheritance if a king's son does not stand to inherit the throne. On the other hand, which sister's son gets the nod? Might be bloody.
The story revolves around a strange visitor to Arthur's court at the celebrations for the New Year. But Arthur
"...Wolde never ete
Upon such a dere day, er hym devised were
of sum aventurus thyng an uncouthe tale,.."
And sure enough a giant knight, green of complexion and dressed all in green enters the hall on his horse and challenges the assembled company to deal him a blow. Poor Gawain gets the nod, and finds that it is his task to cut off the knight's head with one blow of the Green Knight's huge ax on the condition that Gawain himself will have to withstand a blow from the Green Knight.
Dutifully, Gawain agrees to the condition and lops off the man's head. At that, the Green Knight picks up his own head by the hair, mounts his charger, and enjoins Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel in a year and a day to await the returning blow.
All very strange and mysterious, and I think worth the trouble of learning to read in the original version.
Happy New Year to all.