Friday, January 30, 2009

Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night

Husband and I had the good fortune to catch "Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night" last night on MPBN, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network which we are very privileged to get as part of our cable package. (It makes us feel very close to our nearest American neighbours, who are similarly transfixed with moose, and snow, and fishing, and artisans making things out of wood and metal the way they made things out of wood and metal 300 years ago when this was a Strong Man and Woman's Country, goddammit!)

Anyway, we ended up staying up far too late for a work night, but please, please, if you have a chance to see this performance, take it. If you're an Orbison fan, hunt it down and bring it, kicking and screaming if necessary, home. Orbison's performance is so pitch-perfect your jaw will drop (the special was recorded but a year before he died), and you will be continually reminded of how absolutely wrenching and beautiful and painful and comforting his songs are. "Listening to his songs is like having him rip your heart out and show it to you," I said. And I mean it in a good way.

Something I hadn't known until today was the amount of tragedy Orbison had in his personal life. His first wife died in a motorcycle accident. A short time later, his family home burned down while he was on tour in the UK, and two of their three children perished.

A friend once told me she could never look at the Van Gogh painting "Wheatfield with Crows" the same way again after knowing that it was the last painting Vincent Van Gogh finished before he commited suicide.

I can't listen to "In Dreams" the same way ever again after knowing that Orbison, very young, lost a life partner and two children.

A candy-colored clown they call the sandman
tiptoes to my room every night
just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper,
"Go to sleep. Everything is all right".

I close my eyes, then I drift away
into the magic night. I softly say
a silent prayer, like dreamers do.
Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you.

In dreams, I walk with you.
In dreams, I talk to you.
In dreams - you're mine.

All of the time we're together...
in dreams, in dreams.

But just before the dawn, I awake and find you gone.
I can't help it, I can't help it, if I cry.
I remember that you said goodbye.
It's too bad that all these things can only happen in my dreams
Only in dreams...
in beautiful dreams.

If you get the chance, see it. If you don't, buy it.


Sparing a thought for others so afflicted

I've been so busy blogging about our own weather misery I have completely overlooked the trials of others.

Take this image reproduced with permission from Sherwood Harrington's photo blog PicShers of some students from DeAnza College making the best of a blizzard snowstorm fat rain snowfall of sorts, in California's Santa Cruz Mountains.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to them as they cope with this unexpected and clearly overwhelming weather event.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ya-hoo, Yo-ray, Welcome Winter, Winter Day

Last weekend another deep freeze hit us. We woke up yesterday morning to find the water in the kitchen frozen. (At least the car started. Since we don't use it daily to go to work, we have to start it periodically in these temperatures to warm up the engine.)

It's incredibly stressful, this, day after day of worrying what might break or be ruined in these temperatures, and what the resulting $cost$ will be. Running the water at a trickle con$tantly. Keeping the heat up all day and night in$tead of using the thermostat program that turns it down a bit while we're at work. Returning home during the workday to ensure nothing's frozen, or seized, or broken off. Getting up at night to do the same.

The culprit this time was a high pressure system that traveled southeast from Yukon. A really high pressure system. In fact:
"What we have seen are some incredibly high pressures. I mean, we have high pressure and there's high pressure, but this is really high," David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, told CBC News.

"It's almost as if you could see heads swelling in the Yukon, with all this air just on top of you."
Hmm. There's a mental image. Anyway, we got the water running to the kitchen again. Today, the temperature rose steadily all day. And all evening. Tonight, we're getting hammered by a low pressure system that's bringing 20-30 cm (8-12in) of snow, freezing rain, and rain.

And rising temperatures.

I swear to God, I never welcomed a snowstorm so warmly. Pun fully intended.



Saturday, January 24, 2009


On last week's episode of "Ronniecat and Husband's December Vacation", Ronniecat and Husband had been invited to spend their last two nights in Cuba at Paradisus Rio de Oro, currently the only five-star resort on the island. Despite some misgivings, they decide to pack everything up yet again and move to the new Vacation Headquarters. And now...

The first thing we did after checking in (the room was gorgeous but nobody else wants to see pictures of your hotel room, so why do people insist on posting pictures of them?) the first thing we naturally did was check out the beach.

The property has access to Playa Esmerelda, a really excellent beach, but if you're adventurous and willing to trek along some rough trails, you can find yourself in a place like this. It's referred to as "the Private Beach" (in the sense that it is isolated - all beaches in Cuba are public) and a friendly security guard directed us to it our first evening there. There was but one other soul around - a small and curious crab skittering around. I took this snapshot of Husband in his natural habitat.

These cosy spots are scattered around the resort.

A dozing statue looks positively peaceful.

I really loved this modernist statue of a female figure in the middle of the grounds.

More sculpture - a flock of seagulls scuds past a cliff wall.

Part of the vast lobby of the resort.

More statuary - this group is meant to represent an indigenous family.

At the lobby bar were two large murals, one of Señor Leonardo de Gamboa...

...and one of Señorita Cecilia Valdez.

One afternoon, at loose ends, I stopped by the bar for a drink. There was but one other customer. It was about 4 pm, and the sun had begun going down outside the large, open-air lobby.

After the bartender brought my drink, I gestured towards the murals. "Who are they?" I asked.

"Oh," he said, smiling. "Very sad story. They are characters in Cuba's literature. It is a terribly tragic story."

"Really?" I said.

"Yes," he said. "Very sad. Like Cuban Shakespeare." Then he returned to his work. Turned out, after I was back in Canada with internet access, it's very much like Cuban Shakespeare.

Our two days at the resort were very interesting. Everything about the place is beautiful, and luxurious, and sumptious. Our check-in consisted of us being invited to sit down, being handed a cool towel and a glass of champagne, a polite request for our passports, then the return of our passports along with the presentation of a card we were asked to sign. Then we were taken to our villa on a golf-cart-type vehicle. Our luggage vanished the minute we arrived, only to be magically in our room when we arrived there. The buffet restaurant was huge. There was champagne at breakfast. There were Japanese, Mediterranean and Cuban resturants on the grounds - all part of the all-inclusive deal, just make reservations. The mini-bar was stocked and re-stocked daily. The nightly entertainment was worthy of the Tropicana. The grounds were immaculate, and I've only shown a tiny sample of the statuary, features and fountains. The public toilets all had seats, all flushed, and all were stocked with toilet paper. At the currency exchange one day, I couldn't help but overhear the gentleman in front of me request the conversion of 45,000 Euros into Cuban Convertible Pesos. "I'm sorry it's so much," he said apologetically to the cashier, "I'm settling our bill." (I'm assuming he was staying at an ultra-exclusive part of the resort, which is gated, and which consists of "Garden Villas" costing something like $2500 CUC a night according to a price list posted at the lobby desk.)

And yet... all that was a bit part of the problem. The staff were exceptionally competent, helpful, friendly and polite - but they would not speak to you in Spanish, even if you persisted in trying. Women dressed in cocktail dresses and high heels for the after-dinner entertainment. (Stilettos? For tourists? In Cuba?)

On our second day there, Husband put his finger on what was wrong. "We could be anywhere," he said. "This isn't Cuba. This is a generic resort in any Caribbean or South American or Mediterranean or South Pacific country in the world. It's all completely generic."

Not that it didn't have its moments. The clientele - perhaps because of that very, 5-star, generic quality - were a complete mixed bag of Europeans (we met the absolutely sweetest young couple from Birmingham) and Canadians. Husband was standing at the bar one evening when a rather tipsy British woman struck up a conversation with him. "Oh, you're Canadian!" she said. "I heard on the telly that your government's just tippled." That caused some minor consternation - things were looking liquid when we left, and we had no access to news from home - but as we expected, things weren't quite as bad as all that.

A fascinating experience to be sure, but we both agreed that if we went back, we'd much rather go back to Sol Rio Luna y Mares with the regular folk, and use the time we spent packing and moving to visit one of the local towns. Turns out the first taste of cocaine doesn't take in 100 percent of cases.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blurring Lines

Extreme English posted a link to a really interesting New York Times article about the diverse makeup of the Robinson-Obama family.

The article makes the point that many ordinary families are easily crossing racial and cultural divides and organically creating multicultural families. One of my good friends is an Egyptian Muslim married to an Acadian woman; his brother is married to an Anglo Canadian woman. A third brother just moved to Canada with his Filipina wife and their daughter.

I like it. I think that in North America, by the time our generation's children grow up, our definitions of race are going to be considerably changed; and by the time their children grow up, our current definitions of race are going to be largely unrecognizable in the North American landscape. At the same time, I think that something more important than race - culture - will be preserved and at the same time transformed. I expect that some people will find that sad. I don't.

Sometimes I think it's our only hope.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration

It's here, too, if you can believe it - Inaugural Obsession. The Inauguration was all anybody at work was talking about today. People were genuinely excited about it. The first black American President. In our lifetime.

At 10:30 or so local time an email went out ordering everyone to refrain from watching the swearing-in online as it would cause bandwidth issues. Mutters of protest could be heard across the organization. We were lucky - we have a television available to us to watch news or the legislative proceedings when we need to. The swearing-in was conveniently at 12:30 pm our time so everyone took their lunch hour then and watched together. Everybody commented that Aretha's voice and hat both rocked. Everyone gasped and looked at each other when John Roberts flubbed the Oath of Office. (Seriously. How do you not get 37 words [41 if you add a superfluous "so help me God", which is not in the oath, as Roberts did], in bite-sized chunks, right on an occasion like this?) Everyone was silent during the Inaugural Address, which was sobering indeed.

Then, just a little sooner than President Obama and Vice-President Biden, who have some parties to attend, we rolled up our sleeves and got back to work.

(The e-mailed admonition, incidentally, seemed to have little effect, as I couldn't load a single web page until at least 30 minutes after the end of the Inaugural Address.)



Monday, January 19, 2009

What fresh hell is this?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

We're sorry, but the blog post you selected is not available from your location. Please select another blog.

A phrase I am growing heartily tired of reading:

"We're sorry, but the clip you selected is not available from your location. Please select another clip."

It's a phrase Canadians - and web surfers around the world - encounter more and more frequently when friends and pundits in the US with blogs post video clips online. It appears in the middle of the black box where the video would play. If it would play.

NBC does it. Hulu, a growing presence as a host site for television episodes from numerous networks, does it. When "Daily Show" clips are posted, Canadians see "In Canada, Comedy Central Videos are available on The Comedy Network", with a link to The Comedy Network's home page. If you want to find the Daily Show clip your friend posted, you can always go to the show's sub-page and start guessing. Good luck with that.

Yahoo, Google, MSN and various other major websites try to force users, based on IP address, to use nation-specific subsites. I - and millions of other Canadians - had to lie to Yahoo about my location in order to get a "" email address instead of a "" address.

Yes. We lied about our location. And there are places on the net where people from around the globe, outside the US, discuss this, and how annoying it is, and share practices for getting around it. For awhile, the hot tip was that you could see those forbidden Daily Show clips by copying the url of the site where it was posted and using Google Language Tools to translate the page from English into English. Then the page would think the user accessing the page was in the US! And the clip would play! Cool.

Until someone, either at the networks or at Google, figured it out, and closed the loophole.

I had this optimistic notion that the worldwide web was a sort of international community that was above national divisions, where we were all citizens of something bigger than geographic and political classification and segregation. It feels like that's not the way things are shaping up for people outside of the US at all.

I understand a lot of this stuff has to do with business, and international redistribution rights, and so on. That explains the problems with accessing online video clips (although I still don't have to like it), but it doesn't explain major websites' efforts to pigeonhole their users into country-specific sub-sites. That's probably better explained by the theory that these sites see their users as a product to be sold to advertisers. If Yahoo can promise advertisers in 100 countries that it can deliver eyeballs from millions of potential consumers from their specific country, everybody wins, right?

Everybody expect web users who thought that they were going to be part of a truly global conversation, wherever they went.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Snapshot of the Cold Snap

Depending on where you live, you either suffered the recent cold snap (Hi, R.!), are suffering it (Hi, Mike!) or have read or heard about it.

We kept the taps dripping when the cold weather hit here last week, as we always do. That usually does the trick, but on Friday we woke up to find the water in the upstairs bathroom was frozen. Husband dutifully got out the heat gun and started tracing pipes, and by noon the water in the sink and bathtub was running, but not the toilet. (Since the pipes run from the sink, to the toilet, to the bathtub, this was a bit of a poser.) We kept checking the office underneath the bathroom for signs that a pipe had burst, but nothing. Just - nothing.

Then we found the car wouldn't start.

Since we both had to go to work, we decided to wait out the toilet (there's another one, which was working, downstairs), putting a space heater in the room and crossing our fingers. We don't need the car for work, so we decided to put off calling CAA until today.

This morning the toilet tank still wasn't refilling and the car still wouldn't start so Husband had another go with the heat gun (no go) and we called CAA, which was swamped and couldn't come until 4 pm or so. They came and jumped the battery. The car still wouldn't start. Then Husband and CAA guy noticed that the car actually has a plug-in, something we had no clue was there.

So we plugged in the car (duh!) and the CAA guy said he'd come back tomorrow and try again. But hey! The toilet tank refill line started running! ("It's the most beautiful sound in the world," I sighed.) So with everything under control, Husband left for his usual Saturday night visit to the pub and I settled in upstairs to read "The Audacity of Hope".

That's when there was an explosion outside my bedroom window and a shower of sparks. I thought kids were setting off fireworks in the street and ran downstairs to see what the heck was going on. Looking out the window of the foyer, I saw a thick black powerline snaking along the snowbank right outside the house, and the power pole at the end of the driveway - just a dozen or so metres from the house - was on fire. Our electricity was still on, but houses across the street were dark, and through their windows I could see flashlights flickering on.

As I've mentioned before, our street is downtown and constantly walked by pedestrians. I was freaking out a little by this time; I called 9-1-1 (again!) and stuffed the two struggling, protesting cats into their carriers while peering out windows up and down the street so that I could warn any approaching pedestrians away. By the time I'd gotten the cats banged up, there were firetrucks at both ends of our short street, warning people off. (Someone next door must've wandered out and tried to argue with the firemen about being able to go somewhere, because a fireman had a pretty dramatic shouting match with him or her, ordering him or her back into the building.)

Then the NB Power trucks arrived. That's when we lost our electricity (naturally they had to cut power to everyone so the poor brave NB Power soul could go up in his little bucket and do what he had to do). Now I had a new worry. No electricity=no heat, and we could lose all the pipes. The NB Power guy did his work - poor bastard, it's -24c (11f) right now - and Hallelujah!, the power came back on. As the NB Power guys walked back to the truck, one of them turned and saw me peering out the window. I did a kind of "tip my hat" to him, and he waved back. Thanks. You're welcome.

Once again I'm in awe of the guys who do the really hard jobs, the firemen and the cops and the utility people, and everyone else who works in the lousiest weather at the worst hours to make sure the rest of us are safe and warm.

Just a snapshot of the cold snap and how it's affecting our little family. As I said to Husband today, this is being repeated thousands of times by thousands of families all over the region. One damned thing after another.



Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How to Survive a Canadian Winter

Veronica on the heating grate underneath the china cabinet. For her, this, and the bed upstairs, are the house in winter, with short sufferable and necessary stops by her kibble dish which lies somewhere between.

(Incidentally, she has repeatedly shown the necessity of 'break-away' collars by getting her ID tag caught in the Victorian grillwork of this grate... every once in awhile we'll find her wandering around 'naked' and find her collar stuck on the grate.)

At least someone's getting the benefit of all that hot air blowin' up through there, that we're paying for.



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Después de los huracanes

A quick post to show some of the hurricane damage left from Ike and Gustav around the resort we stayed at. Only half of the resort was open, the hotel-like Mares; the villa-style Luna in "Sol Luna Rio y Mares" was still closed for repair. All over the grounds were spots like this one, where trees had been uprooted.

Crews were working hard to repair damage to the grounds; most of the damage to the open lobby and lobby bar area had been completely fixed, but the cigar shop was still closed while staff fixed the roof.

This is a shot of the beach from our balcony. People who had stayed at the hotel before the hurricanes told us that the beach used to be much, much more thickly populated with palms than now.

Down the beach a ways, a broken pathway leads from the currently-closed Luna Villas to the beach...

... mute testimony to the amount of beach that washed away.

Up and down the beach, bare poles that used to be palapas (thatched shade umbrellas)...

...were naked - or half-naked - and sad.

Signs of repair: thatchers work on the roof of a beach bar at Paradisus Rio de Oro. That's the five-star resort at the other end of Playa Esmerelda (Esmerelda Beach) where Husband and I spent our last two nights in Cuba. Just chock-full of stinking rich Europeans. But more about that later.

I wondered just how hard it'd be be to book a thatcher after the hurricanes (it's highly skilled work and I wondered how many there can be in Cuba). Looks like the Paradisus got theirs by the time we got there.

I mentioned before that unfortunately we didn't go into town(s) this time, and unfortunately weren't able to take very good photos from the bus on the way to the airport. (We arrived after dark.) That meant that we couldn't document the most significant thing we saw regarding the hurricanes, which was a number of single-family dwellings being rebuilt, often out of brick. Some of the families even stopped working to wave at the bus as we went by. (Did I mention that they wanted tourists to come, come now, and bring money??)

A couple of days into our stay, a letter was slipped under our door inviting us to move down the beach to Paradisus Rio de Oro for the last two nights of our stay at no extra charge. "It's like heroin," I said to Husband. "The first taste is always free." (Then we had a quiet conversation about whether they thought we were good prospects because it was our third trip, although not with the same tour company or hotel. "Do you think they... track these things?" "Uh - Iuhno - maybe... probably?") We debated it - we really, really enjoyed Sol Luna Rio y Mares - but decided we'd kick ourselves if we didn't go for it. So more about Paradisus later.


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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Klicking for Kibble

It's worth reading today's post at Nostalgic for the Pleistocene or, if you must, Mojo's take on the same, about and, websites for a charity created by an American twelve-year-old that scores food for shelters every time visitors to the websites answer a car or dog trivia question. You can visit one or both sites once a day to register your clicks.

Unfortunately I'm not aware of a charity doing something similar for Canadian shelters; but if anyone knows of one, let me know. In the meantime, we are all in favoUr of doing something helpful for Our American Cousins of the four-legged variety.

Klick! For the love of God, klick!


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Monday, January 05, 2009

Canada vs. Sweden Redux

Tonight's the Gold Medal game of the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship. Canada vs. Sweden. Sweet! They're in Ottawa this year and I envy the big and boisterous crowd in the stadium.

The Canada-Sweden matchup mirrors last year's Gold Medal game, where Canada won a hard-fought 3-4 victory in overtime. So the Swedes will be pretty hungry for revenge.

Reactions to Sweden's Magnus Paajarvi's comments to a Swedish website that the Canadians would "shit in their pants" if Sweden scored two quick goals in the game (which ranged from crude [The Edmonton Sun called him a "Swedish meatball"] to annoyed, to sanguine [the Canadian players and coaches], to bemused [me]) have largely been assuaged by the fact that the Canadians scored their first goal at 38 seconds into the first period. (Paajarvi later said that the comments 'meant something different in Swedish', by which I assume he meant it was badly translated, which may be true. Or may not, because doesn't it just sound like something a 17-year-old hockey player would say?)

I love the Juniors. So much more interesting than the NHL these days. So with 4:08 left in the first period, I'm settling in for some good hockey.



Sunday, January 04, 2009

Back to normal. Thank god.

Back to work tomorrow. Can you believe it? Well, yes, I'm sure those of you who worked the 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 2nd, 3rd and today can well believe it. We're lucky however, and thanks to unused vacation days and (in some cases quite generous and) cooperative supervisors, we have been left to our own devices since Christmas.

I'll be taking part in a study out of Memorial University, my alma mater, about potential genetic roots of hearing loss. My sister found out about it and connected me with one of the researchers. As I understand it (and been told, yes, that's essentially it), they look at the DNA of two family members, one with hearing loss and one without, to explore any unexplained genetic anomalies in the DNA of the deafened relative which might explain the source of the hearing loss. Sister will be the control sample, I guess, and I'll be the, uh, deaf person.

Husband and I have always taken every opportunity to take part in any CI or hearing-loss research projects we're offered. (He took part in one on the effect of a CI implant on the implantee's family.) We've always thought it was the least we could do in return for everything we've been given. Now my Sister is contributing too. (Her very DNA!) Kind of neat. It would also be pretty neat if they could find a genetic source for the hearing loss, which was so sudden and so unexplained.

Hope your holidays were as nice as ours. Tomorrow, the cats will have to relinquish the pleasures of having us around all day to laze with them and our world will return to the routine of work. Watching the news tonight, I'm just glad we're able to go about our daily routine tomorrow in safety, and security, and peace.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Let the Good Guys Win.

For a few years now, I've been posting or linking to the lyrics to "Let the Good Guys Win", by Canadian singer-songwriter icon Murray McLauchlan, on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Its plaintive opening plea ("May I get what I want, not what I deserve") reminds me always of how lucky and how inadequate I am, and its plea that this year maybe "the good guys" will "win" speaks to the embers of my optimism.

This year I was delighted to discover that YouTube has video of McLauchlan performing the song with friends (and also-Canadian-music-icons) Tom Cochrane and Paul Hyde. Enjoy. And this year, let the good guys win.

The wishes in the song are my wishes for you. Happy New Year, everyone.