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Paris is behind me now July 2, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, explore, journey, learn, life, urban, world.
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9 comments

along the Seine 1

Holidays are hard. Well, maybe not the holiday itself, but the post-holiday adjustment. I’m not talking about jet lag or laundry, but a kind of ennui that seems to last for weeks.

rue MontorgueilWe lived in Paris for 10 days. The five of us rented an apartment, bought groceries, walked everywhere, visited museums, took a couple of train trips, attended concerts and lunched at a café on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I believe that the tight itinerary expertly researched by Lavenderbay (check out her daily Paris blog starting here) helped us to truly experience the best of the city. It was wonderful and exhilarating. At times it was overwhelming and exhausting, but it wasn’t hard.

The hard part was coming back. The hard part was getting used to no longer having fresh croissants for breakfast, or stepping out of the door to browse any number of interesting boutiques or market stalls, or being able to take one of a multitude of metro lines to another exciting destination. We live in downtown Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, but it doesn’t feel at all like Paris. It feels, well… disappointing, sleepy, provincial.

Chinatown - 5.24 pmI know that sounds harsh. But think about it: there are lots of cars and pedestrians at rush hour, but at most other times, all except the malls are nearly deserted. There is a city market, and a few other neighbourhood markets if you know where to look, but they are the exception and not the rule. It feels like most of the population is indoors — in their cars, at home in front of the television, shopping in a grocery store or mall… The part of Toronto that most seems like Paris is Chinatown. Does that seem as strange to you as it does to me?

Obviously, Toronto (and Canada in general) just doesn’t have the wealth of history, architecture, and upheaval. Canada isn’t centralized like France, where Paris is not only the capital but the cultural centre, the showcase and heart of the country. And Canada is too big and too under-populated — even in the city-centres — to support such an efficient transportation system.

metroWe might imagine improvements, though. For example, I could like to see what would happen if a large population centre actually decided to excel in public transportation, and invested in it, so that everyone who lived in that geographic area could travel quickly, on time and relatively cheaply. Imagine what our cities would look like if they were designed for people, not cars!

taxiAh, well. Canada is where I live and Canadian is who I am. So, what would bring a tourist here if they come from a city such as Paris? We pondered this question for a while, and decided that it was the space, the open vistas, the wild country, the untamed wilderness. Toronto is not a cosmopolitan city, it is merely a place where people live and work. There are some nice museums and art galleries, some decent culture and beaches. And we do have history here, it’s just different, it’s just spread out and diluted by this huge country.

This is the land called “big lonely” by the hobos who used to travel by boxcar during the Depression. This is the country that spans a continent, bordering on three oceans. This is an open country, not confined by history or geography, celebrated for its peaceful and liberal attitudes. Yesterday was Canada Day. I’m glad I’m home.

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Sideswiped by happiness (and other detours) June 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, creativity, energy, explore, journey, learn, life, nature.
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11 comments

boulder born
Janet (aka Lavenderbay) took this photo of me admiring the wonders of nature in New Zealand.

I know, it has been more than a month (wordpress courteously calls it “a while”) since I’ve posted, and a lot of water has galloped under that bridge.

I’ve thought from time to time of ideas that would make interesting posts, but thinking doesn’t always translate into doing. And doing has taken up all of my thinking lately. There was the 10-day trip to Paris, then the 4-day trip to New Brunswick, and all the jet-lag, catching-up, mental hiccups, etc that accompany changes of scenery and daily routine, not to mention time zones. But that’s another blog.

The occasion for writing is a prod from a friend, Goodbear, who awarded me with a “Tree of Happiness” and tapped me for a meme. It’s a simple task, at first glance, just the sort of thing to get me back into writing again: list six things that make me happy; name six blogrollers as recipients of this award; and link to the giver and the givees.

And, hey, I like a challenge, so…. hmm, maybe that could be my First Thing… so here goes, six things that make me happy (but not necessarily in order):

Trail ride in Paradise1. A challenge overcome: Yes, I can be competitive, but I my natural contraryness compels me to compete most fervently against the naysayers and despairers. Most of all I love games or problems that I can apply my Gillian-patented blend of humour, intuition and wiggly lines to come up with a possible solution (or even better, a choice of solutions from several possibilities). This is a highly satisfying pursuit, and I will drop my own boring work at the merest whimper from one of my co-workers in order to spring to the rescue. (But it’s strange how my work never gets finished on time…!)

play again?2. A doggy grin: I will admit it, I am now a total dog convert. Of course, I still love cats, and Cuca has no complaints when I stop to skritch him at that dry spot along his jawbone and behind his ears, but only a dog can make me smile when I’m all pouty inside. All it takes is that happy panting goofy grin to cause my droopy mouth to turn up at the corners, and before I know it, I’m grinning right back.

dapple path3. A forest path: I love the hush of the forest — where the ever-present hum of the city is drowned out by bird song and the sound of the wind in the trees. This is the song of the unwound road, which I have written about here, so I won’t repeat myself, except to say that this is one pleasure that I all too seldom allow myself. In fact, I have been doing way too little physical activity of any kind lately, so I hope we’ll have lots of time during our upcoming camping trip in Bon Echo for trail tramping!

family fun 34. A good meal with good company: I may be good at multi-tasking, but all too often I’m trying to read or work on the computer while I’m eating… or should I say, “wolfing my food”. I seldom take time for breakfast at home, ending up most days with a muffin and coffee at my desk at work, and that’s where my lunch often is as well. Then at home, there’s blogs and e-mails and other computer business to swallow up yet another meal time. How marvelous then when my partner and I actually take the time to sit down and eat and talk and spend a meal together, whether at home or at the pub, with friends or by ourselves. Sometimes it’s only then that I truly relax. (Or maybe that’s just the glass of cheer talking.)

the cat and the piano5. Music: I’m a trained musician, but I’ve stopped playing music myself, at least for the time being. (That’s another blog for another time.) Yet I can’t help being moved by music. I love so many styles, and I don’t always know what’s going to hit me in the heart on a given day, whether it’s the sublime “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (that we were so fortunate to see in Paris), the joyful skip of a medieval dance tune (as played by the Toronto Consort, for example), the full-throated folk-song world fusion composition (such as a song by the Finnish group Värttinä), the aching pain-pleasure balancing act of a Puccini aria, or one of those comfortably familiar ’70s tunes that we can croon along with in wobbly harmony. Music touches me and moves me; it picks up my feet and my heart and my hopes.

green walk, receding6. Photography: I take photographs. If I am seeing something — anything — for the first time, and there isn’t a camera attached to my face, it’s hard for me to fully enjoy the experience. I use a camera to record what I see, urban juxtapositions and natural wonders, friends and family, the world around me. I take photographs to make sense of what I see, and to help me see and appreciate the small delights that lift life away from the mundane. Sometimes when I’m behind a camera, when I’m focusing on a huge vista or tiny flower, time flows by like a dream, and I am completely absorbed by my task. After viewing and enhancing these photos I’ve created, it is a huge reward (and often ego-boost) to choose the best and share them with others. It’s like that with words, too, although they aren’t as immediate — so thanks for taking the time to read these!

Phew. I did manage to find six things, and I haven’t even mentioned chocolate. Wow. I have a lot to be happy about. Thank you, Goodbear, for the invitation!

Now, since I haven’t been active here for a long while, I don’t know whether my blogfriends will notice if I tag them, but I guess it’s worth trying. So, here’s a Tree of Happiness — and an invitation to list six happy things — going out to: haiku-ist extraordinaire Shaw Malcolm, world-explorer Richard, Devon organic farmer Paula, and… oh, Lavenderbay has already tagged the others I would have asked. Oh well. Three Trees of Happiness is a good start, and maybe I’ll find some more recipients later.

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A step back in time May 4, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, diversity, explore, learn, life, world.
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7 comments

Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 1This past week, I had the privilege of visiting an Old Order Mennonite couple. The group of us stayed for about 40 minutes, listening to tales of harness-making and quilting, ploughing and making preserves.

My only previous exposure had been seeing the black horse-drawn buggies near St. Jacob’s, and buying Mennonite sausage at the market. (Yum!) You may have seen the women, in lace caps and flowered dresses, and men in their dark suits and sober hats. They belong to a tight-knit community, and as much as possible try to stay out of the public eye.

The Mennonites are sometimes known as “the quiet in the land.” A few years ago, I saw the award-winning play (“Quiet in the Land“) by Anne Chislett; its portrayal of the tension between tradition and change in a small Amish community is heartfelt and compelling.

Out of the approximately 50 types of Mennonites in Canada (the Amish are a Mennonite offshoot), many have modernized to some extent. Most of the Old Order Mennonites now have telephones and electricity, and more modern groups drive cars and go to university.

Descendants of a radical wing of the Protestant Reformation, the pacifist followers of Menno Simons (1492-1559) endured two centuries of bitter persecution in Central Europe. During these two centuries, many Mennonites sought sanctuary in Prussia and southern Russia. Others, like the Swiss ancestors of the southern Ontario Mennonites, emigrated to North America. Their descendants now live all around the world, from Paraguay to the Congo, with two-thirds living outside North America.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 4

This global perspective means that the Mennonites are active in reaching out to people around the world through relief organizations such as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the volunteer-run self-help stores known as Ten Thousand Villages.

During our conversations, I observed the care given to crafting everything from leather bridles to hockey gloves, peach preserves to quilted chair covers. I looked at the weathered hands of the old couple, and their faces lined from sun and smiling, and I could see that their simple hard-working life had been full and fulfilling.

Although I am modern in my desire for freedom and self-determination, part of me longs for that kind of connection — to the land, to the community, to their craft, to their beliefs — that the Mennonites show in their lives.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 2Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 1

Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 2

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Related Links:
NY Times Book Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Introducing the Mennonites
Special section: Modern Mennonites
Mennonite Central Committee
Third Way Cafe
Ontario’s Mennonite Heritage

Claiming the Arctic April 24, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in arctic, Canada, diversity, environment, explore, global warming, nature, world.
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4 comments

Northwest Passage - Globe & Mail

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
                                    “Northwest Passage”, by Stan Rogers

The dotted blue line of the new 200-mile limitCanada has one of the longest coastlines in the world. Although it borders on three oceans, until recently, it hasn’t paid much attention to the mostly frozen Arctic Ocean at its back door. That is now beginning to change.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention, signed by Canada in 2003, coastal countries can extend their sovereignty beyond the usual 200-nautical mile limit recognized in international law if the seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.  Since Canada ratified the convention in 2003, it has until 2013 to submit scientific evidence to extend that limit.

That potentially gives Canada claim to an area the size of the Prairie provinces that could contain natural gas, oil and other resources. Canadian scientists are struggling against unpredictable ice conditions to map the ocean floor.

However, the resource-rich Lomonosov Ridge, which runs between Greenland and Russia, will be a bone of contention. Russia is claiming this undersea mountain range is part of Russian territory. In 2006, Canada and Denmark cooperated in a mapping project to try to show that the structure of the undersea Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the North American continent.

The Arctic Ocean is now being mapped

Canadian attention is also focused strongly on the ownership of the Northwest Passage. This past summer, satellite images showed that the passage between Canada’s arctic islands was ice-free for the first time in recorded history. And there are predictions that the it may be open for much of the summer in as little as 15 years.

If these predictions come true, the Northwest Passage could become a busy shipping route. The Northwest Passage is 7,000 kilometres shorter than the current shipping route through the Panama Canal. That’s about two weeks saved in travelling time.

Under the UN Law of the Sea, all ships are guaranteed passage through international straits. Should the winding Northwest passage between the northern islands be considered an international strait, or part of Canadian waters? Perhaps the best solution is to open the passage and govern it, as Nunavut resident Paul Kaludjak suggests: “The best way to have our sovereignty accepted by the international community is not to restrict entry to territory, but to facilitate use of it in accord with Canadian regulations.”

Canadian rangers patrol the ArcticThe Arctic lands are the traditional home of the Inuit nations, and their livelihoods depend on the rich resources in the harsh northern habitat. The Canadian Rangers, who patrol and police the North, are predominantly Inuit. Whatever decisions are made about the Arctic will affect the environment and the livelihood of these northern peoples.

The goal of the UN Law of the Sea is to share the ocean resources fairly between coastal countries. We don’t need a cold war over the Arctic; there’s room for everyone to “play nice” as long as environmental studies and regulations are put in place first.

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Related LInks:
…Or Something (blog): “Geology, geopolitics, and the Law of the Sea
Nunatsiaq News: “Measuring Mountains Under the Sea”
Seed: “Deep Space: The last great land rush on the planet will be at the bottom of the ocean”
Geology.com: “Northwest Passage — Map of Arctic Sea Ice”
CBC: “Canada’s Arctic claim work challenged by ice, logistics”
National Post: “Canada’s Arctic mapping key to resource claims”
CBC In Depth: “Canada’s Arctic sovereignty: Drawing a line in the water”
“Sovereignty and Inuit in the Canadian Arctic”

Wired: “Today, Countries Battle for a Piece of the Arctic. Tomorrow? The Moon”
CBC In Depth: “The Northwest Passage: The Arctic Grail”

CBC multimedia: “Breaking the Ice: Canada and the Northwest Passage”