Archive for Writing (other)

Xwayxway (Not Stanley Park)

Solstice-sunset-on-Sunset-Beach,-Stanley-ParkSolstice-sunset-on-Sunset-Beach,-Stanley-ParkI wrote this article for the Vancouver Observer in response to the proposal to use the First Nations’ name, Xwayxway, in place of Stanley Park. My article is mostly a romp through history and the many cultural shifts and name changes these shifts have caused.

Anyway, here she goes…

Xwayxway (Not Stanley Park)

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the old British Empire in Canada. Even the Queen’s visit seemed to be generating undue negative reaction, culminating with accusations that Michaelle Jean’s husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, had suggested the Queen find accommodation in a local hotel (rather than Rideau Hall) whilst visiting Ottawa. Would Motel 6 do? And famously here, there was the suggestion of doing away with Lord Stanley’s eponymously named park in favour of the traditional Xwayxway. What’s next? No more tea at the Empress?

A most interesting case for name changing is Istanbul. That ancient city founded as Byzantium by the Greeks during their heyday in the 600’s BC, it took the name Constantinople when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire there in 330 AD. It remained the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) until the Ottoman Turks sacked it in 1453, and among other renovations (such as adding minarets to the Hagia Sophia), the name Constantinople got the works and the city was renamed Istanbul. Its stunning Hagia Sophia was first a Christian Church, then an Islamic Mosque, now it’s a secular UNESCO world heritage site.

Journey of Man

Geneticist Spencer Wells has been analyzing human DNA from people in all regions of the world and has traced a journey of man that starts in Africa and in one unbroken lineage leads us around the world in less than 2,000 generations. All the human diversity we see today descends from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago.

A very recent discovery, by Western Washington University linguistics professor Edward Vajdof, reveals a linguistic link between the Old World and the New. Vajdof has discovered an ancient language connection between the Ket people of Western Siberia and the language family of Na-Dene, (which includes Tlingit, Gwich’in, Dena’ina, Koyukon, Navajo, Carrier, Hupa, Apache and about 45 other languages). This discovery gives Wells’ DNA studies new meaning. We are not just connected genetically, but also culturally.

As I write this, a First Nations’ delegation is headed to Moscow to meet their 10,000 year old linguistic cousins. The journey continues.

Bradford

On 30 June, I was fortunate enough to be at the official opening ceremonies for Klahowya Village in Stanley Park. The village, located near Malkin Bowl, features an interpretation centre, a re-skinned Stanley Park choo-choo called the Spirit Catcher train, and a chance for local First Nations peoples to put their face forward in the city. We were treated to native singing, dancing, feasting, and long, long speeches of thanks and gratitude.

Strolling around the “village”, I chatted with some First Nations’ folks selling handmade crafts. We chatted affably for a while until a reference was made to the Union Jack as a “Butcher Apron” and some disparaging comments were made about the Queen. My thoughts, “that was uncalled for”. So, while it’s intellectual suicide to trash other cultures, the old predominant culture of Canada, the English, seems to be fair game.

I have only to go back two generations to find myself in the moors of Lancashire and Yorkshire, specifically in Bradford, England. I’ve never visited Bradford, but from what I’ve gathered, my forebears were wise to get out. It’s a dirty bleak industrial town, so I have great thanks that I live in Vancouver and not Bradford. Incidentally, since my grandfather’s childhood there, it now sports a surprisingly large number of mosques—evidence of other journeys. In any case, whatever can be done with Bradford, it will never have anything as wondrous as my Stanley Park. Whatever we call it, Stanley Park is our jewel to the world. It is a unique crossroad for many, many human journeys.

When Hell Freezes Over – Outlook Style!

For all you MS Office enthusiasts who have discovered the flexibility of adding follow-up flags to appointments in Outlook, here are some hot tips.

First of all, when entering a date in the Due by field, stop being boring. Using the drop-down calendar to select dates takes forever. Simply type in your date thus: dd/mm/yy (unless your computer is set for American dates, in which case you enter mm/dd/yy). Outlook knows what to do with these dates and converts them into something aesthetic and palatable (August 14, 2006, for example).

More amazingly, Outlook will look up dates based on rather irregular text.

Consider the following:

You can enter…

    * tomorrow
    * next Saturday
    * the day after tomorrow
    * +5 (in five days)
    * last Wednesday in November
    * halloween
    * two days hence
    * Washington’s birthday
    * last week
    * Independence Day (American, of course)

But before you get too carried away with yourself, don’t make Outlook look stupid by falling for these obvious pitfalls:

You can’t enter…

    * Saturday next
    * Canada Day
    * in a fortnight
    * at the next full moon
    * the Ides of March
    * All Hallows’ Eve
    * Gurtrude Stein’s Birthday
    * when the moon is in the Seventh House And Jupiter aligns with Mars

Likewise, I managed to produce this dismal failure for Outlook’s Follow-up flags…

Try it out and send me your suggestions.

Lord love a Canadian

What is it with Canadians and their maple leaf fetish? Everywhere I went in Europe, I could spot Canadians by the little maple leaf tags sewn on their back packs. I know the reason for the identifiers, but who really cares if I’m mistaken for an American? It’s not like Americans are everywhere (well they are, but more in a military/industrial sense than as tourists in Europe). Most the tourists I encountered were European and were not necessarily a more pretty lot than the Americans. Perhaps, the scourge of the ugly American tourist has passed or everyone else has come up to speed making all tourists equally vulgar. What gets me about the Canadians is, who are they trying to impress their Canadian-ness on anyway? The doorman at their hotel? Their waiter? Who cares what a doorman or a waiter think?

Behind the Opéra Garnier, I went to a multi-media show on the history of Paris and found myself sitting next to a couple resplendent in T-shirts, wristbands (wristbands??!!), and baseball caps all with maple leaf motives. I’m sure they were a very nice couple, but there was enough foliage on these tourists to qualify as camoflage gear! Also, they are sadly misinformed about how pre-occupied Parisians might be about the nationality of these two (I’d say, not a bit). I was really tempted to lean over to them and say, “So, what part of Michigan are you from anyway?”. Naturally, the first thing I did when I returned to my hotel room was rip all the maple leaf tags off my luggage.

Now I’m back in Canada and having a reverse laugh at Canadians and their quaintly self-conscious ways. In the bank today, I overheard an American tourist trying to get some money from an overly helpful teller. The American tourist told the teller that he was from Los Angeles and she chirped, “Welcome to Canada. I hope you have a wonderful stay”. That impressed me because I couldn’t imagine a European bank teller being that friendly. Polite yes, but not so singsongy about it. I was also struck by the farm-folksy way she asked the American if he would like his cash in “loonies and twoonies“. I couldn’t believe that she, a bank teller, would not know that “loonies and twoonies” don’t really constitute Canadian currency and that our little pet names for our money are not known universally. Not surprisingly, the American just sputtered, “I have no idea what you’re saying”. Vive le culture shock, eh?

Après-Louvre

It was only after I got up extra early, ate a good breakfast, packed some water and trail mix that I realized I was using my Whistler skills to negotiate my way around the Louvre. You see, the Louvre is huge—it’s really huge—it’s bigger than Whistler and Blackcomb combined (even including Creekside!). And the similarities don’t end there.

When you enter through the glass pyramid, there are four ‘lifts’ that, once you show your pass, carry you up to the galleries. Colour coded maps are provided to make it easier to find your way around, and a smart art connoisseur knows to take lunch early in one of the museum restaurants or face huge lunchtime crowds. To take the metaphor just a little further, I would re-organize the Louvre in the following fashion:

All paintings that are not French or Renaissance would be classified as Green run (Colline de Lapin). These would include Flemish masters, any prints and drawings, and all art from the Middle Ages. Add to this, works from Mesopotamia, Persia, the Levant, and anything ‘oriental’ that is not Egyptian.

Blue runs would include Greek, Etruscan, Egyptian, Roman sculpture, French paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries with the possible exceptions of works by Delacroix and Jacques-Louis David which would be classified as Blue-black.

Black Diamond runs would include the Venus de Milo, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, anything relating to Napoléon I as well as the Napoléon III apartments. The reigning Queen of Mogles would be, of course, the Mona Lisa. Only experienced art lovers could be expected to make their way through these galleries and anyone able to view all in one day would probably be Olympic material.

Mona-Lisa-At-The-Ski-LodgeAfter all the jostling, photo taking, gawking, and the like, the fun part would begin Après-Louvre when everyone would descend from the galleries down to the surrounding cafés, put their sore feet up, order rounds of beer, slap themselves on the backs in a congratulatory manner, and swap stories of their art-bum adventures.

Je suis desolé, mais…

Some French words that look like English words can be very misleading. Take for example, “Je suis desolé”. I really hoped I would never have to utter those words in French. They sound so last-ditch. I could perhaps imagine myself saying I’m desolated that I smashed my rental car into a tree, but it would be very difficult using those words if all I did was step on someone’s foot or bounced a cheque. Perhaps this explains why the French would sooner shrug than apologize – evidence of a shortcoming in their language.

Europeans are so much more conscious of saving energy than North Americans. In public places, such as restaurant lavatories, lights are on timers giving you a couple of minutes to do your business illuminated before having to fumble in the dark. This is also true of hallways in hotels, which is a bit of a hazard given the uneven floors and stairs. As I was leaving my hotel room I bounded down the stairs in the dark (hey, I’m practically a native now) only to miss a stair. Had I not been quick, I might have pitched down a couple of flights, but as it was, I grabbed the handrail using the same hand I was using to hold my plastic key card and caused the key to nearly crack in two. The remaining four flights gave me the time to compose my best French so I could explain to the concierge what had happened to the key. “Excusez-moi monsieur, mais j’ai tomber sur les escaliers et cette clé est cassé.”

Then the heavens parted and I got to say it… “Je suis desolé”. I half expected the concierge to look at me like I was mad, but he just smiled and said that it was not a problem and the key could be fixed.