Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Long Hot Summer from Now On...

Not much to report, really.

Except that I think the heat's really getting to me this year. I tell ya, Poodledale's like a "friggin' oven," as my dad would say, like a desert or something. And forget this "dry heat" crap. For some reason, even though we haven't had enough rain to fill a damn bird bath this year, it's humid. So not only are we now suffering temperatures usually reserved for cooking poultry, but the heat lingers on, even after the sun sets, the air clinging to you like tight, damp clothes.

Maybe the heat's what made me do it. But I made a shocking discovery last week -- I'm going bald!!!

Yes, I was shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED!!!!

So, dopey from the heat (which may also explain why I enjoyed the latest installment of the DIE HARD franchise -- easily the best one since the very first one) and perhaps even inspired a little by Bruno's battered chromium domium, I took my trusty old Trac II in hand, and whacked it all off.

I'm still not sure why. Boredom? Vanity? Anger at those damn follicles going AWOL? The vast fortune I'll no longer have to blow on cheap shampoo and combs?

Beats me, but except for a few nicks and an embarrasingly pale pate (I look like a Q-Tip), the operation was, uh, successful.

The reaction?

Decidely mixed. I look a little tougher if I scowl, I think, (GREAT! Now small children cry in my presence and customers ask if someone else could serve them) but mostly I still look like a doofus.

Ah, well...

On the crime fic front, I just finished reading Ken Bruen's THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS from a year or so ago-- don't know why it took me so long to get to it -- partly perhaps in honour of D.L's recent return from Ireland. This makes the second great P.I. novel I've read this year that's set in the Emerald Isle (the first was Declan Hughes' powerful and disturbing THE COLOUR OF BLOOD, which I've already raved on about elsewhere).

Not that Bruen's novel is any less powerful or disturbing. The Celtic Tiger may be roaring, but there seem to be an awful lot of pissed off Micks out there who wouldn't mind skinning that cat. The hero of THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS is, of course, perennial fuck-up Jack Taylor, the all night drug prowling wolf ex-guard half-ass Galway private eye who never met a lost cause (or a pithy quote, be it Shakespeare or Springsteen) he didn't embrace. Dependably undependable, he's roped into two cases this time out: investigate a possibly evil (but sexy) stepmother who may have bumped off dear old dad, and to track down an "angel of mercy" who once worked at the notorious Magdalen laundries (the laundries were essentially sweat shops run by the Catholic Church where pregnant single women and other ill-behaved -- ie: "uppity" -- women were sentenced to what amounts to slavery and torture for their sins).

The anger is palpable and visceral; like Hughes' book, it rises off the pages in waves like steam heat. And yet there are also tender, poignant moments as well that will shred your heart. Nobody writes like Bruen, and few even dare try. Which is, perhaps, just as well. In the hands of lesser writers, the subject matter would be simply a grisly hook, a cheap thrill to get the punters into the cheap seats.

Not Bruen, though. He's a man on a mission, and I suspect it's more than just delivering a good read, although of course he does that -- in spades. There are souls in torment here, stacked up like kindling, and Bruen holds the match.

Burn, baby, burn.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Oh, Canada...

The Great White North turns 140 today, and I'm sitting here sweating in the ferocious heat of California's high desert, my heart aching with pride and longing. Longing because I'm not there. And pride because, damn it, I'm Canadian.

There was a Molson beer TV commercial a few years ago. The ad originally aired during hockey games (where else?) , but soon became a national sensation.

It starts off with a young man walking up to a microphone. He clears his throat, and starts, hesitantly at first.

"Hey... I'm not a lumberjack or a fur trader.

I don't live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dog sled and I don't know Jimmy, Sally or Suzie from Canada."

Then he adds, "Although I'm sure they're really, really nice."

A fanfare starts to play quietly in the background.

"I have a prime minister, not a president. I speak English and French, not American, and I pronounce it "about," not "a-boot."

His voice is starting to rise. "I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack."

Crowd noises start to be heard. A few stray whistles. By this point, his voice is definitely louder and more passionate and the music has picked up.

"I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation, and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal, a tuque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch and it is pronounced "zed," not "zee"!

He's in full rant now.

"Canada is the second largest land mass, the first nation of hockey and the best part of North America!" he's practically screaming. and then he delivers the punchline.

My name is JOE AND I AM CANADIAN!!!!"

The crowd roars and the music swells.

And then he quietly adds "Thank you."

Silly? Maybe. It's just a shill for a beer, after all. But it touched something in the Canadian psyche. There were T-shirts and parodies and much serious discussion -- once again -- on what it means to be Canadian.

But even now, five years later, I hear that bit (I found an mp3 of it) and my heart breaks a little.

Don't get me wrong. I love D.L., and I generally like my life down here, but I miss Canada. I miss my kids. I miss my family. I miss Montreal.

I miss health care. I miss multiculturalism. I miss a place where speaking more than one language is seen as a plus, not a weakness or a loss of face or a surrender to "them."

I miss the CBC. I miss real weather and seasons and snow. I miss political discussions in a country where everything isn't polarized, where everything isn't controlled by "us' or "them."

I miss poutine. And little restaurants on cobblestone streets, not faceless chain restaurants. I miss feeling safe and fortunate. I miss speaking with people who can argue without hating. I miss speaking with people who can name both the current prime minister AND the current president. I miss skating on outdoor ice, the squeak of snow under my boots and the way, on really cold days, when inhaling freezes -- momentarily-- the insides of your nose.

I miss the TV news being read by journalists; not TV stars.

I miss a place where diplomacy and compromise is seen as a good thing; not as wimping out.

I miss Tim Hortons and bicycle rides along the Lachine Canal. I miss a place where violence is seen as a failure, not a strategy; where rights and dignity and good government and a better life for everyone matter more than an individual's "pursuit of happiness." I miss real bagels. I miss people who know how to spell "neighbour."

I miss being in a place that plays well with others. Canadians, for the most part, know that we may not be the greatest or most powerful country in the world, and we certainly know we're not perfect. But we can live with that, and we know that we're still a pretty damn good place to live. I miss real maple syrup. I miss hockey being on television (The Mighty Corporate Logos won the Stanley Cup this year, and as far as I could tell, not one local station carried it!). I miss the explosion of colour each fall.

I miss, I miss, I miss... Forty years ago, Canada celebrated its centennial. Pearson was prime minister, Trudeau was in the wings, and the World's Fair was in Montreal. I was a kid, but it was a heady time. The world came calling and we were ready. "Hey, Friend, Say Friend" backed with "Un jour, un jour" was the official, inescapable bilingual (of course) theme song that welcomed visitors to Expo 67, and Bobby Gimby's "Ca-Na-Da," sung by a children's chorus, was equally hard to avoid.

But songs and celebrations aren't what really makes a country. It's the people.

So here's to Stompin' Tom and Mordecai Richler, Gordon Lightfoot and Pierre Tremblay, Rene Levesque (no, seriously) and William Shatner, Nick auf de Maur and Jean Beliveau, Anne Murray and Laura Secord, Gump Worsley and Neil Young, Leslie MacFarlane and Brian Moore, Alice Munro and Blue Rodeo, Will Feguson and Norman Jewison, Pierre Berton and Norman Bethune, Magic Tom and Stan Rogers, The Tragically Hip and Ken Dryden, k.d. lang and Tommy Douglas, Donald Sutherland and Mr. Dressup, Roger Doucet and DeMaisonneuve, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Chez Helene, Tecumseh and Nick Adonidas, Hugh McClennan and Michel Pagliaro, Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Atwood, Sir John A. and Pierre Radisson, SCTV and Kids in the Hall, Joni Mitchell and Mackenzie King, the Irish Rovers and Thomas D'arcy McGee, Peter Gzowski and Great Big Sea, Murray McLauchlan and Marshall McLuhan, The Rheostatics and Mack Sennett, Bruce Cockburn and Isaac Brock, Oscar Peterson and Terry Fox, Sarah McLachlan and Banting and Best, Aislin and Wilfred Laurier, Margaret Laurence and The Band, Jacques Hebert and Ross Macdonald, the Friendly Giant and Ginette Reno, Youpi and Farley Mowat, Rick Mercer and Pierre LaVerendrye, Nelly McClung and Gilles Vigneault, and everyone else.

If you get a little rush from hearing any of those names, or are immediately ready to argue at length with me about why I didn't include this person or that one, you know what I'm talking about.

Happy Canada Day.