Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Believe it not there are a few intrepid business owners here who post signs in their window displays that actually use the word Halifornia to mean Halifax. Now I wouldn't have you believe anything is particularly bad about this nice little city that's generally very well cared for (a 13% sales tax rate and high property taxes do wonders for the various municipal services) but California it is definitely not. I spent more than 17 years living on the west coast of the US and had enough chances to see that fabled state to know this city is nothing like that place. Look wherever you like and you won't find a movie studio, a Hollywood starlet, a Golden Gate Bridge, or a Disneyland. No grape vines either. Nevertheless, when the summer sun shines it's a pretty enough place as you can see from the picture above I took one afternoon last week (zoomed a bit); the very next morning we awoke to mist so thick I couldn't see the balcony rail from three feet away.
Here's another one taken from the same spot this morning and what we have here is a genuine Atlantic fog and not the smog that often obscures LA. California is a lovely state that has its share of man made problems while Halifax (and Nova Scotia in general) simply don't have the kind of climate and landscape to attract 36.5 million people. In fact the entire population of Canada at 34 million is noticeably less than that figure. Perhaps those store owners should just show a bit more honesty in advertising and change their signs to say Halifog. Then again, that might not encourage tourism.
I came across an interesting story on the BBC this morning about the world's first multinational corporation and its monopolization of the spice trade:
Just as corporations today seek to monopolise plant genes in the developing world, the Netherlands United East India Company (Voc) set about seizing total control of spice production. In 1652, after displacing the Portuguese and Spanish, the Dutch introduced a policy known as extirpatie: extirpation. All clove trees not controlled by the Voc were uprooted and burned. Anyone caught growing, stealing or possessing clove plants without authorisation faced the death penalty.
On the Banda Islands, to the south - the world's only source of nutmeg - the Dutch used Japanese mercenaries to slaughter almost the entire male population. Like Opec today (and Monsanto etc.?), the Voc also limited supply to keep prices high. Only 800 -1,000 tonnes of cloves were exported per year. The rest of the harvest was burned or dumped in the sea.
Somehow, little Afo managed to slip through the net. A rogue clove. A guerrilla plant waging a secret war of resistance. Afo would eventually bring down the Dutch monopoly on cloves. In 1770, a Frenchman, appropriately named Poivre, stole some of Afo's seedlings. This Monsieur Pepper took them to France, then the Seychelles Islands and, eventually, Zanzibar, which is today the world's largest producer of cloves. A clove tree planted from the original seeds still stands today half way up a volcano on Zanzibar where it grows as a symbol of the ultimate folly of empire - and the stubborn refusal of nature to be controlled.
Maybe I'll like cloves better from now on.